Despite a number of exhilarating surfing sequences, the interesting true story of surf legend Jay Moriarty is transformed into another dull Hollywood biopic. Painfully family-friendly, it's all so relentlessly smiley and sun-kissed that we wonder where the real story and characters are amid the sticky schmaltz. Even so, it's so beautifully shot that it holds our attention, especially when the cameras are riding the waves.
By the time he was 9 years old in 1987, Jay (Timberline) was already an expert on the tides in his home town of Santa Cruz, California. Watching the surfers every day, he longs to get out there himself. His mother (Shue) is a sleepy alcoholic and he never knew his father, so he adopts salty old surfer Frosty (Butler) as a mentor, even though he's not sure he wants the job. Especially since he's doing everything to avoid his own wife (Spencer) and baby. But Frosty sees Jay's natural talent, and seven years later Jay (now Weston) has the confidence to ask Frosty to teach him how to ride the mavericks, mythical monster waves that only come along every few months.
With its absent father and drunken mother, the script never feels like more than an after-school special, complete with a bat-wielding bully (Handley) and a surf babe (Rambin) who chastely flirts with Jay whenever they meet. Frosty even sets Karate Kid-style pointless tasks for Jay to teach him the bigger picture. But this set-up is so trite that we never have even the slightest doubt about where it's going. And the characters all feel like cliches rather than real people. The three women are especially wasted, but at least they add spark to their roles.
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