Oh, hello movie that I never got a trailer for, seen a poster for, or even seen the name of while searching for upcoming movies. No seriously, I really haven’t seen hide or hair of this thing. I only found out about it a couple days ago and all I was doing was double checking what other movies might be coming out for the week. Go figure.
The story looks like it’s about a pair of loving brothers who love their respective sports of football and track and one of them looks like he’s about to get a scholarship out of his town. However, he suffers an injury and… I don’t know, his brother puts responsibility on himself to get the scholarship for his brother? I have no idea.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Tanner Stine (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), Evan Hofer (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), Kristoffer Polaha (1 episode of BIRDS OF PREY [2002 -2003], and the upcoming WONDER WOMAN 1984 ), Mykelti Williamson (FENCES , and the upcoming EMPEROR ), and Kelsey Reinhardt (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing, we have Chris Dowling, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Co-writing alongside Dowling, we have Jake McEntire (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of) and Jason Baumgardner (SAMSON ). Composing the score is Paul Mills, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of, and the upcoming PALAU THE MOVIE (2019). The cinematographer is Kristopher Kimlin, known for I CAN ONLY IMAGINE (2018). Finally, the editor is Dan O’Brien, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of.
Is this a low-key Christian film? Because I’m seeing a writer from SAMSON and Kimlin who did IMAGINE. Please no. Or… actually be low-key about it. No bludgeoning me, please. That’s all I ask. Or better yet, no Christian overtones at all!
This is my honest opinion of: RUN THE RACE
Teen brothers Zach (Tanner Stine) and David Truett (Evan Hofer) are a pair of athletes, and Zach is eager to get noticed for a football scholarship to get out of their hometown and get away from everything that holds them back, including their drunken and negligent father Michael (Kristoffer Polaha), who abandoned them after their mother died two years ago. Zach has never forgiven him, while the deeply religious David has struggled with it. Zach is approaching the big game that will get him noticed by a scout, but a poor decision to go to a party leads to a heckler causing him to get into a fight and wind up with a torn ACL, benching him from the game. Unable to allow their dreams of leaving town to die, David decides that he’s going to try out for track and get a scholarship that way.
Mmph, well, its Christian agenda is certainly a little more low-key than most, but it’s still pretty cliché in its delivery. At the heart of this movie, it’s a “lost and found faith” type of story.
Some smaller issues. It takes a long time for this movie to clue us in on who exactly Nanny (Frances Fisher) is to these two boys. Is she an aunt, a kindly neighbor lady, their boss at the job they work, who is this person?! Turns out, she’s their godmother. Jeez, why does it take an hour to say that?! I’m probably exaggerating, but that’s kind of a big thing to establish. Hell, I’m not even entirely sure if the house Zach and David live in is their house or hers. Pretty sure it’s theirs, as Zach does say, “You don’t live here anymore” to their father, but this just raises more questions. Are they paying the mortgage, the bills, nothing it really explained on how these boys are getting by.
A bigger issue, this movie is so high on its own soundtrack that I urge everyone to not purchase any of the music in any fashion. I say this because this movie is addicted to montages that feature a song. I counted, there’s seven, almost eight. Some of them are barely spaced apart, it’s worse than a bad musical. I almost have to ask the question, why bother having a composer for a score? Paul Mills work is barely noticeable, if at all. This was a huge annoyance throughout the movie.
But now we have the biggest problem with the movie, and it’s the religious attitude toward the non-religious. Look, I’ll try to be fair before I start complaining. I’ve seen religious flicks that were about Christian-persecution and the portrayal of Atheists or those with a weakened faith in God as people who get drunk and are bitter and even violent. This movie certainly touches upon it, but does an immensely better job at showing the humanity of the troubled individual, allowing us to relate to and even like him. I don’t even have a problem with his underage drinking, as that’s what a lot of teenagers do. My problems are when Zach and Ginger (Kelsey Reinhardt) are eating dinner with her parents and they break out the question of whether or not he’s religious. My initial reaction to the question was to be outraged, but I had to remind myself that it’s their home and they have every right to ask whatever questions they want. And to their credit, the parents seem to be understanding when he says that he doesn’t have the same faith that he once had, and not at all like David does.
But everything goes downhill when Zach has to talk to Ginger about it. She’s the one who doesn’t approve of his shaken belief. Up to this point, Zach’s been a solid character in his attitude toward religion. He hasn’t been mean-spirited about it, playfully knocking it like any non-religious does, but has been honest about his feelings. Ginger’s honest too, that her faith is important to her, but she comes across like she’s trying to make him be a believer again, rather than simply show compassion and understanding for his feelings. Why should Zach change for her? Why can’t she accept him for who he is? Fine, if she’s just in that mindset of, “I can only be with another Catholic,” then fine. To each their own. But don’t have an attitude that says he has flaws that make her angry. This gives real religious folks a bad name.
And seriously, did the two not discuss religious views while they were dating prior to dinner with the parents? Religion has a tendency to be a pretty big deal to the religious community. If a religious person is dating a non-religious person, that’s something that needs to be hashed out before things get too serious, leading to someone getting hurt. I know they’re just teens, but both Zach and Ginger have appeared to be mature beyond their years. I feel like there’s no reason for the two of them to have their argument.
But, as much as I can ramble about the problems, I should point out that there are a few things that I liked about this movie.
For one thing, it tickles me to see Polaha in a movie. I’m sure he’s done plenty of smaller films in the past, but this is the first time I’ve seen him in anything outside of the short-lived TV show BIRDS OF PREY. Not like his episode was the best, or anything, but I’m happy to see that he was given a script that allowed him to… well, act better than what I saw. Actually, despite the typical drunk character that he plays, I have to say that he does have a certain charisma about him. He effectively comes across as a monster, as pathetic, and sympathetic. The effect is only ruined when we’re introduced to the monster where other characters start to say things like, “He’s a broken man who lost someone too.” This dialog isn’t necessary, as he has scenes that explain this well enough. Not enough faith in its own writing, which is a shame.
I will also give a little credit to Stine, who does a surprisingly good job of carrying this flick. Despite looking like a genetically tailored 90’s boy, he has charm. For every time I wanted to be unsure of his acting, or call out that he’s trying too hard, he always has a scene that shuts me up and I stop seeing an actor and get lost in the performance. He has great chemistry with Hofer, Fisher, and even Polaha. I believed that he was a loving brother and an opening minded young man whenever Fisher gave him the business. I especially bought his troubled views on his father. I especially enjoy the scenes where Zach is on a date with Ginger. While I sure think that he came on too strong in the beginning, their chemistry as the relationship develops is surprisingly fun. He’s funny, she’s funny, it feels like a real date between two good-natured teens. I may not buy that a teenage boy is watching old black and white TV shows or movies, or that he’d use words like, “fellas,” but I buy his connections to those around him.
Hofer is no slouch in the acting department either. I loved how even though he was clearly the more vulnerable of the two brothers, clearly wanting to forgive his father for his abandonment, he wasn’t weak-willed. There’s a great scene where Mike meets up with the boys at a restaurant. Zach leaves in a huff, but David stays behind. Mike then tries to manipulate David into asking Nanny for money so he can pay rent, but to keep that information on the down-low. I’m sitting in my seat, rolling my eyes, waiting for David to reluctantly agree. But to my amazement, he says no. Mike leaves angrily, but I’m still not having faith in this script. I’m counting down the minutes and seconds before David feels guilty for turning his father away and eventually caving in to ask Nanny for the money, but… no, he never does. He forces his father to crash and burn and make his own way, take responsibility for himself. You can tell, David is the more emotionally fragile brother, but even he knows better than to help a man who needs to learn from his mistakes. I’ve seen better movies make their characters fall into this trap and later find out, “oh no, he lost all that money in booze or gambling,” but this movie knows to make its characters have a true sense of integrity. That’s rare in a movie of this quality.
This is definitely where I have to tilt my hat to the writing. The movie takes a staggering amount of delicate time in fleshing out both brothers and their views about their current predicament. I respect that neither brother is wrong about their views. While no one likes to see Zach be so bitter toward his father, any sane person can understand where he’s coming from. All three, including Mike, lost their mother. In his grief, he abandoned his sons to, essentially, fend for themselves. No one can blame Zach for being extra hurt. On the one hand, his mom died of natural causes, but he didn’t just lose her, he lost his dad too. Not by death, though, which is what makes his pain all the more identifiable. Mike made a choice. It was the wrong choice, but he made it. David, on the other hand, believes in forgiveness and knows that he doesn’t want grief to consume him in the way that it has Zach. He still loves his father and wants to make their family whole. He’s a noble kid with a tremendously big heart, albeit a fragile one. He loves both his father and his brother and he doesn’t chastise either for their feelings toward one another.
I’m not going to call this a good movie. On principle alone, this movie does way too much with its treatment of religion and I can’t find it in my heart to say that it’s good. It gets way too obvious later on with its agenda of making the faithless become the faithful, rather than spreading a message of compassion and understanding. The writing isn’t always good, and I’m still clawing at my scalp when I think about how many soundtrack montages there were in this movie. But I have to admit, when the script isn’t lackluster, it’s almost great. There are some powerful and standout scenes, the actors are definitely working with the material given, and does an effective enough job of making you think about these characters and their emotions. As a recommendation, obviously the religious community doesn’t need my approval, as they’re going to see it regardless of my opinion. As for the common man, honestly, I’d say give this a shot. Save it for a rental, obviously, Netflix or whatever streaming service it might be available for, and see for yourself. It’s not perfect and will have its groaner moments, but I think you’ll be surprised at what it might offer on the side. I’ve seen far preachier religious flicks. This one might be worth the time.
My honest rating for RUN THE RACE: 3/5
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