Give it a chance and Judge Bill Gibron thinks you like this familiar football drama.
Would you give everything you love for a shot at everything you wanted?
We all have that moment we wish we could "do over," that event from our past which, supposedly, predicted our future prospects with defiant destined accuracy. Maybe it was a person we didn't date/talk to, or an opportunity we couldn't/wouldn't take. From that moment, in true Doc Brown fashion, our fate skewed off the preplanned trajectory into a parallel realm unrehearsed and unprepared for, resulting in a less than satisfactory conclusion. Of course, we never see this storyline in situations of success. What merry multimillionaire sits backs and wonders what would have happened had he (or she) scored the last basket in the State Finals, or if they had stayed in Med School instead of dropping out and starting a hedge fund? The 2011 football allegory, Touchback, gives us a decidedly familiar set-up: former high school football star loses his chance at a career in the Bigs, because of a major miscue in the final game of his senior year. Fast forward nearly two decades, and our hero is a depressed farmer whose life is literally falling apart.
You see, star quarterback Scott Murphy (Brian Presley, End Game) defied his coach (Kurt Russell, Big Trouble in Little China) during the crucial final moments of the State Championship. Instead of following the suggested play, he ran the ball in for the winning touchdown, breaking his leg badly in the process. Jumping ahead, Scott now wears a brace and remains hobble by his injury. He is married to Macy (Melanie Lynskey, Up in the Air) and lives the typical cinematic life of quiet desperation. His soybean crop is dying. He's never lived up to his own preconceived potential, and his small town is rubbing this in by celebrating the anniversary of that fate football night. Beyond depressed, he drives his car out into the middle of nowhere and sets things up for suicide. Suddenly, he's back in high school, trying to sort out his new second chance. Initially happy, he soon realizes that some things in the future are absolutely fine. More importantly, returning to the past isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Though it tends to suffer from "Big Game" Syndrome (more on that in a moment), Touchback should actually be called "Throwback." It's a return to the days of pre-post-modern moviemaking, when stories were simple, emotions were sound, and characters came in recognizable, rote archetypes. Within minutes, we know we're going to follow a disillusioned man, his long suffering spouse, and the mentor who should have been more authoritative and supportive. Digging deeper, we get the sexy if shallow cheerleader, the sainted mother, and the typical collection of ancillary adolescents. While we've seen the story done dozens of times before, from a classic episode of The Twilight Zone to the less than stellar Jim Belushi vehicle Mr. Destiny, there's an earnest quality here that's hard to deny. Even though the cornpone flows freely, we get a nice level of moderation from the performances. Everyone here is excellent, from featured players Presley, Lynskey, and Russell, to surprises like Christine Lahti (Chicago Hope) and former football great Barry Sanders. In fact, all the acting makes the more maudlin elements of the narrative work, as well as giving us the necessary investment to follow the film through to the end.
Of course, no sports movie can manage to survive without pitting everything we seen before and since on the final outcome of the…Big Game, and it's here where Touchback loses us, if just for a moment. Since we've grown to care for these people and what happens to them, we do root for a proper, positive outcome. But writer/director Don Handfield milks it, making us squirm as unnecessary slo-mo action beats are tossed in for apparent "authenticity" and drama. There are also some problems with pacing, the filmmaker feeling that being honest and sincere means making each scene slightly overstay its welcome. The result is not necessarily plodding, but does diminish the forward motion and passion we feel for what's happening. Still, with a sensational cast and a clear message of personal enlightenment and self-actualization, Touchback scores…and scores big. It may not be complicated, but it sure is compelling.
As for the Blu-ray release, Anchor Bay's transfer is terrific. We get a nice level of detail and depth in the 1.78:1/1080p high definition image, and while decidedly low budget, things onscreen look highly polished and professional. Colors pop and there's no real visible defects. Sonically, the situation is similar. The TrueHD 5.1 mix is nicely balanced between ambience and dialogue, and the football footage provides a nice level of immersion. The surround speakers get a good workout during these sequences. Finally, the added content is minimal, but meaningful. The six minute making-of featurette may not float your boat, but the full length audio commentary with director Handfield and star Presley will. While a bit too chippy about their accomplishment, they do provide a nice amount of backstage insight.
Granted, many will find this as corny as Kansas in autumn, but Touchback really does do a decent job of pulling at your heartstrings without going completely overboard into schmaltz. We all have that moment we wish we could "do over." Sitting through this film will not be one of them.
Not Guilty. Effective, earnest, and very enjoyable.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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