Those who have seen Remember the Titans already know Walt Disney Studios’ latest entry into the feel good, sports can overcome all sports canon, McFarland USA. The film opens Friday (Feb. 20).
Disney has turned these stories into templates for success in America’s theaters. Think Cool Runnings. The Rookie. Invincible among others. All of them, though not critical successes, enjoyed run with film audiences.
So why should Disney change the formula now? They haven’t and in McFarland, the audience will be able to predict plot points with precision. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.
It’s all in how things are executed. And the story of cross country coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) receives an acceptable touch from director Niki Caro that mitigates the many cliches that pop up during the course of the film.
White, a former football coach, finds himself in the community of McFarland, Calif. with only one thing on his mind – how soon he can get out. He arrives as an assistant on the football team only to butt heads with the head coach almost immediately and is fired from coaching, but not teaching.
During his short time in McFarland, he quickly observes how fast the Mexican-American teen-age boys who work in the field run. He takes the initiative and forms McFarland’s first cross-country team. In the process, however, he has much to learn.
Most coaches would have given up and walked away, but White, who his runners affectionately call “Blanco,” takes the chance to learn about each of the teens individually and about the cultural differences that could easily be a hindrance That’s a strength of the film that its writers proved wise in including.
Far too often in films that depict a Caucasian character as the great savior, those he helps are expected to learn what he or she is about. It’s refreshing to see the opposite tactic taken here it provides the most enjoyment of any element of the film.
Another: Costner’s presence. Creatively, he’s been delivering in the parts that he’s chosen – be it Draft Day (movie was primary problem) to Black or White (which I personally liked a lot) to this one.
He shows that he has a firm grip on who White is and paints a complete picture of the man. It helps that he has an extremely likable group of actors to play off and that the bond formed is easily believable.
Yes, McFarland USA fills the screen with clichés, but it’s not cliché addled. There’s plenty to enjoy in this inspirational story.
Movie: McFarland USA
Director: Niki Caro
Cast: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Rated: Rated PG for thematic material, some violence and language
Running time: 128 minutes
George’s rating: 3-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com