An alcoholic writer once proclaimed that only bullfighting, rock climbing and auto racing were true sports, the rest, merely games. While his statement surely raises some objections, it’s possible to see his reasoning. Those sports embody a conflict between humanity and nature (or machine), where success is measured by conquest instead of points. All possess spiritual components, and life and death are very much daily realities (for examples, see “Senna” and read “Death in the Afternoon”).

Chasing Mavericks

At Quality 16 and Rave
Twentieth Century Fox

There is one egregious exclusion from this list — surfing. “Chasing Mavericks” makes a passable argument for surfing’s inclusion, but sadly sinks under the weight of its overloaded plot.

“Mavericks” is a tale of Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston, “John Dies at the End”), molding body, mind and soul in preparation for the ultimate wave. He’s trained by local legend Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler, “300”), who spends the entire film either gazing at Jay surfing from 500 yards away or asking him to write essays.

As the movie progresses, little conflicts are introduced and resolved: Jay struggles to ask out the girl he loves, a stereotypical bully hits the mirrors off cars, Jay’s mom is lazy and Jay’s best friend, Blonde (Devin Crittenden, “Disaster Movie”), uses mysterious drugs (gasp!). These arcs have emotional depth worth exploring, but seldom is. One can’t shake the feeling that the movie is just trying to fill space.

Frosty’s character is the story’s strength. Frosty is truly torn between his compulsion toward surfing (danger) and a love of his family. He broods on a paddleboard over a deep ocean trench, contemplating his fear of loss, and the concurrent emptiness and fullness of the water — a moment that taps into “soul surfing.”

The problem is, for every scene of true feeling, there is another in which Frosty condenses his religion into buzz-words and self-help lingo. He tells Jay to observe the sea, and then, after Jay’s arbitrary failure, simply “tells him the answer.” There shouldn’t be a SparkNotes for finding yourself in the ocean, yet, “Mavericks” almost implies that possibility.

Fear of emptiness, and fear in general, becomes the major message of the script. Jay struggles to open a letter from his absent father, both a fear of losing hope and of what the words inside might say; Blonde sees Jay moving forward with his dreams while he sits flipping pizzas. These are compelling, complex feelings, but they end up reduced and resolved in the simplest of ways. None of the characters engage in any significant manner, so the audience is left to presume motives — it isn’t subtlety, it’s sloppiness.

The editing and direction also lack cohesiveness. Camera angles change too quickly, an artificial attempt to inject energy into scenes that already possess it. The act of riding a wave should be a smooth endeavor, and we expect the direction to emulate the content — instead it feels like a Red Bull commercial.

“Mavericks” supplies music where the roaring of the sea would suffice, another folly. The ocean is the soundtrack of a surfer, and “Mavericks” should have recognized that every Power-Rock anthem it plays separates the audience from an organic understanding of the sport.

“Chasing Mavericks” is overloaded, leaking from the sides with unnecessary and underdeveloped plots, characters and aesthetics. The ocean is harsh and soft; something worth contemplating. While “Mavericks” wants to do good, its commercial packaging ultimately undermines its spiritual content. Surfing has soul, but it’s hard to find in this film.

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