A dream can make all the difference under the sun.
Loosely based on the true story of a group of students from Konawaena Intermediate and High School in Hawaii, this is the feel-good story of how a group of misunderstood teenagers came together and proved that they weren't the losers everyone thought them to be. Much to my surprise, even though this movie contains every clichéd character and storyline known to Hollywood, this is an enjoyable story about how everyone can realize their potential, find their niche, and prove that everyone and anyone can make a difference.
Facts of the Case
Sandra Beecher (Halle Barry, X-Men, Swordfish, Monster's Ball) is the newest science teacher at Konawaena. It seems that her predecessor couldn't handle teaching the lolos, the "stupid kids." However, Ms. Beecher is looking for a fresh new start after her recent divorce and is ready to tackle the challenge put before her. To make her situation even more difficult, her specialty is actually English and not science, the staff and faculty of the school are drenched in low morale, and her students just don't care about school—as most of them have problems at home.
She notes that the local science fair is not too far off, but Sandra is disappointed that none of her students will be participating. Thus, she decides to get her students involved. Of course, there are several lolos who don't want to do anything for the fair; but Sandra has a backup plan to get them involved. Because they don't want to do a project, she makes attendance at the fair mandatory; she hopes they will be motivated by what they see.
One of her students, Daniel (Casey Affleck, Ocean's 11 (2001), Good Will Hunting) takes an immediate interest in the solar car model that the local prep school has on display. His interest doesn't sit well with the preps and heated words are exchange and the lolos are ejected from the fair.
Deep inside, the lolos all have hidden talents and are not stupid at all—just misunderstood. Daniel's natural talent is engineering, and he is angered by the preps and is able to motivate the other students and Sandra to build their own solar powered car for an upcoming race. The only thing missing is someone who can help them build a sturdy, lightweight, dependable frame based on Daniel's design. Sandra finds that person in Frank (James Belushi, Snow Dogs, Mr. Destiny, Red Heat), the school's shop teacher. She twists his arm and the team is solidified.
In short order, the kids are able to build "The Cockroach," their solar-powered car and enter the race. In true Hollywood fashion, the kids win the race despite a final-lap problem. The winner of the race was given an additional honor—to be the first high school team entered in the worldwide solar-powered car race in Australia. And off the kids go to race against professional engineers with corporate backing.
Can all the kids truly come together to win the race? Can Sandra and Frank guide their students to the finish line? Will the brutal weather of Australia keep the kids from crossing the finish line?
As I mentioned above, this movie is replete with every Hollywood cliché: uncaring administrators, fighting parents, the fat kid, a step-family, young love, preps, evil corporate sponsors, underage drinking, nasty competitors, in-fighting, and so forth. There is nothing original in this movie at all. Ideas have been borrowed from many other movies out there—Summer School, Lean on Me, Cool Runnings, and Rocky just to name a few. However, this movie has such a nice, warm touch to it that you will enjoy the age-old story contained therein. Aside from Casey Affleck, everyone does a nice job with their parts and that helps you care—at least a little bit—about the kids and whether or not they can pull it off. Surprisingly, even Halle Barry does a nice job here; I guess I'll have to reassess my conclusion that she can't act her way out of a paper bag.
The video's main problem is that it's only presented in evil pan and scan. From what I could see of the movie, the transfer is nicely done. Overall, the colors are precise, sharp, and accurate; there is no edge enhancement or artifacting; but there is light grain to be seen throughout the movie. However, the grain is very subtle and does not detract from the film, as it is only truly noticeable during the panorama vistas of the Hawaiian beaches. That in and of itself is somewhat odd as there as many other vista shots during the race in Australia. Nonetheless, it's a very pleasing transfer.
For the audio, we have a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is very good. The dialogue is well centered, clean, and easy to understand; the subwoofer gets a moderate workout during some scenes (mostly musical cues); and the surround speakers are used well for appropriate ambiance. I did notice, though, in some scenes that there was a fair amount of "hiss" coming from my surround speakers. As this did not go on for the entire movie, that hiss may have, in fact, been the sound of rolling waves. I wasn't able to completely verify if that hiss only occurred during beach scenes.
Special features are limited to two theatrical trailers: one for the film itself and the second for The Karate Kid. I'm not sure why we are treated to the latter. I am delighted at the multitude of languages available under the subtitle menu.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
How many times do we have to see the same story? Wasn't Stand and Deliver, among others, enough?
Yes, we've seen this type of movie perhaps one time too many, but it's well done. It has a good cast, a nicely "borrowed" script, nice cinematography, and Halle in a bikini top. There's a good message, which is perhaps laid on a bit thickly, that doesn't hurt to be repeated.
While Race the Sun is pure Hollywood fluff and is guilty of "borrowing" ideas from other movies, its message of determination absolves it of any guilt. Case dismissed.
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