By all accounts, Jay Moriarity was a lovely young man: a talented, dedicated surfer whose enthusiasm and optimism were infectious throughout the Santa Cruz, Calif., community where he was well-known and loved. But that doesn't exactly make him the most compelling figure to place at the center of a film, at least not in the one-note way in which he's depicted here. This family friendly production tells the true story of the late surfer in 1994, when he's only 15 years old and dares to take on the dangerous and potentially deadly Mavericks surf break just up the coast from his home. Jay wants to conquer these waves ... well, because they're there. And he enlists a reluctant local legend, Frosty (Gerard Butler, struggling to suppress his Scottish accent), to help him train. This sets up a father-son "Karate Kid" formula in which the plucky underdog must complete a series of arduous tasks in preparation for a once-in-a-decade, five-story-tall wall of water. Not a single character or moment rings true; no one feels like a fully fleshed-out human being, from Jay's alcoholic mother (Elisabeth Shue) to the pretty childhood friend who would become the love of his life (Leven Rambin) to the tough kid who arbitrarily bullies him. But this is especially true of Jay himself; in the hands of angelic newcomer Jonny Weston, he comes off as singularly sweet and upbeat, without an ounce of complexity or even garden-variety teen angst. PG for thematic elements and some perilous action.
Maybe if you're 20 years old and high in your dorm room with your friends, the platitudes presented here might seem profound. Anyone else in his or her right mind should recognize it for what it is: a bloated, pseudo-intellectual, self-indulgent slog through some notions that are really rather facile. Ooh, we're all interconnected and our souls keep meeting up with each other over the centuries, regardless of race, gender or geography. We're individual drops of water but we're all part of the same ocean. That is deep, man. Perhaps it all worked better on the page. "Cloud Atlas" comes from the best-selling novel of the same name by David Mitchell that, in theory, might have seemed unfilmable, encompassing six stories over a span of 500 years and including some primitive dialogue in a far-away future. Sibling directors Lana and Andy Wachowski -- who actually have come up with some original, provocative ideas of their own in the "Matrix" movies (well, at least the first one) -- working with "Run Lola Run" director Tom Tykwer, have chopped up the various narratives and intercut between them out of order. The A-list actors who comprise the cast (including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent) play multiple parts across the various stories and in elaborate makeup that's often laughable. But rather than serving as a satisfying, cohesive device, this strategy feels like a distracting gimmick. R for violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use.
-- THE ASSOCIATED PRESS