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'Chasing Mavericks' review: A Gerard Butler hot streak?

*** (out of four)

Seriously, Justin Bieber. Are you trying to be as obnoxious as possible, wearing sunglasses during your dinner at Ron of Japan?

I mention that because instead of attending Bieber's Chicago concert Tuesday, I saw a movie featuring a teen sensation about whom I want to know more, not less.

Based on the true story of surfer Jay Moriarty, “Chasing Mavericks” documents the 15-year-old's (winningly played by Jonny Weston) relentless determination to conquer a high-risk surfing spot known as Mavericks. The kid's a natural, scouting waves before anyone teaches him how. The Mavericks require more than instinct. Conveniently, his neighbor, Frosty (Gerard Butler), is an expert surfer whose wife (Abigail Spencer) encourages him to take Jay under his wing. Jay's father is MIA; Frosty doesn't know how to be a dad to his kids. The surrogate relationship happens as naturally as the tide.

Of course a local jerk (Taylor Handley) fosters a rivalry with Jay because every surfing movie needs a bad guy to be shown up on the water. Directed by Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”) and Michael Apted, who stepped in when Hanson required emergency heart surgery late in production, “Chasing Mavericks” and its script by Kario Salem gets a little corny in its messages about finding your way through the hard stuff. It's OK to teach a kid lessons like this; that's why we have dads. Jay's hard work and persistence, whether it's practicing until he can hold his breath for four minutes or staring down insane waves, is inspiring.

This kid's attitude is contagious, so it's easy to see why his cute lifelong friend (Levin Rambin of “The Hunger Games”) might get on his wavelength as more than a pal. What's more surprising is that with “Chasing Mavericks”—which, due to its mid-'90s setting, brings back music from the Offspring and Sponge—Butler now has a two-movie winning streak on his hands following “Coriolanus.” Anyone wondering if he can make it three probably shouldn't watch the trailer for the upcoming “Playing for Keeps.”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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