There's more to big-wave surfing than derring-do in "Chasing Mavericks," the story of a rising star, Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston), and his curmudgeonly guru, Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler). Frosty demands not only rigorous training but typewritten essays, including one on the nature of fear. Jay's first draft is rejected with two words: "Go deeper."
That would have been good advice for this shallow film. "Chasing Mavericks" is based on the real-life figures of Moriarity, who died in a diving accident in 2001 (he was 22), and his father-figure Hesson, but little about this movie feels true. Relentlessly inspirational and pointedly wholesome, "Chasing Mavericks" invents minor conflicts but avoids major problems, coming off less like a biographical drama than a visit from a guest lecturer during Sunday school.
Weston, a relative newcomer, has the curly locks and injection-molded physique of Christopher Atkins in "The Blue Lagoon," but Jay is scrubbed free of sexuality. Mostly he's excited about the enormous waves at Mavericks, a secret surf spot near Santa Cruz. Determined to take one of those five-story vertical drops, Jay convinces Frosty, a flawed family man (Abigail Spencer plays his wife), to become his teacher.
This setup requires Frosty to snarl and philosophize ("fear and panic are different emotions"), while Jay tries to stay focused, despite his layabout mother (Elisabeth Shue), wayward friends and bullying townies. These turn out to be low hurdles, although Jay's childhood crush, Kim (Leven Rambin), is harder to ignore.
Even two skilled directors, Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential") and Michael Apted ("Coal Miner's Daughter"), can't do much with Kario Salem's choppy, unconvincing script. "Chasing Mavericks" consistently forgets that triumph doesn't mean much without something to triumph over.
PLOT A teenage surfer finds a grizzled mentor to help him tackle some of the biggest waves on earth. Based on the true story of Santa Cruz legend Jay Moriarity. RATING PG (brief drug-related scenes)
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE The late Moriarity was clearly an inspirational figure, but this hagiography turns him into a flawless beacon of smiles and beatitude. It's all triumph, no conflict.