Do you know Kevin Costner has been in almost ten sport themed movies in his career? The news may not be that surprising. He seems to always be doing one. His latest turn is in “McFarland, USA” which opened yesterday, February 20. This time out, the sport in question is cross-country running.
“McFarland, USA” is based on a true story. Costner plays Jim White, athletics coach who moves his family to small California town, which has a strong Hispanic presence. He puts together a rag tag bunch of students to form the first ever cross country running team in the school’s history, but can coach and students come together as a team to do the impossible?
Like any good race, watching “McFarland, USA” is like running a marathon. You need to pace yourself. The movie runs over two hours and takes a lot of time building up the story and characters. Frankly, the movie could have been edited down to help streamline it. Sometimes you just want the movie or a particular scene to just “get on with it!” Eventually though, you get that inspirational story the advertisements promise.
While “McFarland, USA” is based on a true story, it is a very formula-made movie. You know how this movie is going to play out before the lights go down. The formula works like this: a group of people comes together to play a sport; they do poorly at first, but after a montage of them training, they get better. When things are looking up, something happens to knock them down. They get past that and really rise to the occasion where everything is looking sunny; but then, even darker clouds roll in until the championship comes along and you know how that usually plays out. (Sometimes they do lose, but that is a rare plot twist. In those cases, they feel like “winners” anyway.)
There is nothing wrong with making a movie using that proven formula, as long as the audience enjoys taking the journey with the characters. At an advance screening in Boynton Beach earlier this week, the crowd there clapped more than once, so they obviously were into what was going on in the picture. I, on the other hand, never really felt the inspiration I was supposed to feel. Maybe because I knew how everything was going to work out. I like seeing coach White trying to connect to his players, and, while he teaches them something, he learns something from them in return; but, the movie always remained safe and never broke any new barriers.
The young talent cast in the movie all did fine jobs and Niki Caro did a good job directing. Most people who see “McFarland, USA” should be satisfied with the experience. It is pretty cool knowing that this all really happened somewhere in our country and, maybe, that will inspire someone out there to do something big like these kids once did. That would be a great story itself. It is Rated PG for thematic material, some violence and language.