Waves crash and churn with alarming ferocity in Chasing Mavericks. A seamless blend of open-water photography, visual effects, and sound design effectively replicates the massive power of the title's world-famous surf break. But floating atop the explosive breakers, like an overabundance of phytoplankton, is a roiling colony of clichés that stops at nothing to dominate the screenplay. Every time a character opens his or her mouth, out comes a red tide torrent of gimmicky aphorisms, phony wisdom, and convenient wisecracks with all the conviction of dialogue from an '80s-era TV movie of the week. Based on a true story, Jay Moriarity picks up surfing out of sheer will as a nine-year-old. Several years later, the Santa Cruz native persuades his mentor, Frosty Hesson, to train him to surf one of the biggest and toughest breaks in the world. Gerard Butler evinces a noble charisma as Frosty with the charm and underlying vulnerability that a young Harrison Ford might have brought to the role. As Moriarity, Jonny Weston practically glimmers with infectious good spirits and optimism. Yet the film focuses almost exclusively on the teenage Moriarity's soul-surfer perseverance, and movies about happiness and cheer are hard to pull off. Directors Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted (the latter took over when Hanson became ill during principal photography) don't make clear what we should care about in this near-hagiography. Invigorating surfing imagery aside, it's no match for the documentaries of Bruce Brown and Stacey Peralta as a nuanced portrait of the surfing life. Casey Burchby
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