Life is easy on the one hand: They’re popular jocks; older brother Zach (Tanner Stine) is a sweet-talking charmer of a star running back, and little brother Dave (Evan Hofer) is a devout churchgoer and has track-star potential.
On the other hand, life is really rough: They live by themselves (in the (fictitious) seedy town of Bessemer, Florida; their mom died of cancer, and their dad (Kristoffer Polaha) is the town drunk.
Zach’s restless; he’s got a plan to ditch the tiny town by landing a football scholarship. Problem is, he’s a fiery-tempered young man and allows himself to get baited by an opposing football team member at a party, and in the ensuing melee, sidelines himself for the season with a torn ACL.
Little brother to the rescue. Dave runs fast. Dave will “run the race,” and keep that scholarship dream alive: go to college, have Zach try out as a walk-on for the football team when his leg heals, and knowing Zach, the rest will be history. Right? Not necessarily. Dave occasionally suffers from serious seizures.
Along the way there’s romance. The pretty hospital nurse’s assistant politely rebuffs Zach, but he’s relentless in his pursuit.
Frances Fisher plays the boys’ godmother, and owner of the grocery store where they work. Mykelti Williamson plays the football and track coach. Mario Van Peeble’s pastor sermonizes in the local church.
“Run the Race” is surprisingly toned-down and naturalistic. The rural setting is rustic Americana, if somewhat depressed—boarded-up windows, Edward Hopper-looking bleak buildings and water towers, and the lonesome locomotive whistle. It’s still a pleasant moviegoing experience: guitar musings and country music in the background, and scenes of surprisingly moving pathos (if over the top), such as the boys visiting their mother’s grave and discovering their teary father sprawled there, bottle of bourbon in tow.
The only time it gets a tad zealous in the religion department is when Zach meets his new nurse-girlfriend’s (Kelsey Reinhardt) heavily, heavily religious parents for a quiet supper-table inquisition as to the status of his faith.
And Zach happens to be in a questioning phase and uncertain about his faith. Why? Because it’s confusing when you pray for stuff and never get it, and when God appears to take away good people for no good reason.
I’ve personally struggled with that myself, but then looked to the East, and that found the concepts of free will, combined with explanations of karma (and karma’s opposite—virtue) to satisfactorily solve every last one of these problems for me. But Zach needs to reach down deep to find something to help him get past the deal-breaker his girlfriend considers his lack of faith to be.
With aforementioned showbiz vets Mykelti Williamson, Frances Fisher, and Mario Van Peebles onboard—plus lead actor Tanner Stine’s abundant charisma—the film couldn’t go too wrong. “Run the Race” is produced in part by Christian quarterback Tim Tebow.
The aforementioned dinner-table God discussion jangles; and the deus ex machina ending is quite amateurish. Which is actually an improvement. Because Christian films in the past have tended to be a little too shrill and zealous to be able to appeal to a wider audience other than the built-in, churchgoing one. And it can’t be the case that these films get made only to cater to the captive flock. There’s got to be some hope of outreach happening, a desire to spread the word.
So even though the film is toned down, there needs to be a further turning down of the zealousness volume. I don’t see “Run the Race” converting any nonbelievers, or providing answers, or even sparking a “Hmmm!” type of fleeting insight into the nature of faith. But for Christian faith-based families, it’ll be quite satisfying.
‘Run the Race’
Director: Chris Dowling
Starring: Mykelti Williamson, Frances Fisher, Mario Van Peebles, Tim Tebow, Tanner Stine, Evan Hofer, Kelsey Reinhardt
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Release Date: Feb. 22
Rated 2.5 stars out of 5