Gerard Butler as George in Playing for Keeps.
Gerard Butler as George in Playing for Keeps.

CHASING MAVERICKS has to survive and overcome a raft of handicaps but, in the end, it rides along on the crest of a melodramatic wave.

First, this true story (usually a bad sign) about a young surfer lost one director to illness and had to be completed by another; it comes from Walden Media, which specialises in inspirational films; and, finally, it stars Gerard Butler, whose many appearances in a varied selection of themes are not justified by his ability.

Butler (pictured above) plays Frosty, a mature surfer with a fondness for dangerous waters; he rescues a youngster who is clearly out of his depth and, years of mentoring later, Jay (Jonny Weston), the kid, has learnt enough to tackle the gigantic waves Frosty has had to avoid to fulfil a promise made to his wife (Abigail Spencer).

As a teacher, Frosty applies tough love to his willing, dedicated and fearless pupil and becomes a surrogate for Jay’s absent father and a counterweight to Jay’s alcoholic mother (Elizabeth Shue).

Time and tide wait for Jay; he becomes a legend in the world of surfing but his celebrity is short-lived, hence the film’s claim to inspiration.

Butler can also be seen as a different kind of sportsman in PLAYING FOR KEEPS, a movie hobbled by its need to be a family picture, a romantic comedy and a half-hearted mockery of overzealous soccer moms and ambitious fathers.

As George, a former footballer of some repute, Butler is required to be a coach; an ex-husband keen to get back with Stacie (Jessica Biel) — who is about to get remarried; a responsible father to his son; and a man whom women find irresistibly attractive or, perhaps, simply available.

There are at least three of these desperate women — a divorcée (Judy Greer); a woman with contacts in the sports-broadcasting fraternity George would love to join (Catherine Zeta-Jones); and the wife (Uma Thurman) of a philandering husband (Denis Quaid) prepared to buy special treatment for his son. George is naturally willing to play the field but not necessarily for keeps.

Stereotypes and clichés abound and Butler’s easy-going charm soon becomes tiresome, while watching four talented actresses wasted on such mediocre material is depressing.