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Film Review: 'McFarland, USA'

Andy Vasoyan |
February 28, 2015 | 4:06 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

"McFarland, USA" was such an average, interchangeable sports film that Andy Vasoyan forgot what average sports film he was reviewing. (Disney)
"McFarland, USA" was such an average, interchangeable sports film that Andy Vasoyan forgot what average sports film he was reviewing. (Disney)
This review is about 'McFarland, USA.' Did that surprise you? If you said no, neither will 'McFarland'.

That's not to say 'McFarland, USA' is a bad movie. Far from it, in fact; the Kevin Costner-helmed flick is a workable, adequate movie, replete with acting and a plot and characters. Rather, what that means is that whatever impressions you may have had about the movie, they are most likely correct.

Did you think it would turn out to be just another in a line of sports movies? Well done! Director Niki Caro's ability to follow a sports movie paint-by-numbers is exceedingly passable, if a bit visible. It's hard not to see the billboard-size countdown to the moment when down-on-his-luck-coach Jim White (Costner) decides to put together a ragtag team of mismatched underdogs.

Even if your view was obscured, the score put together by Antonio Pinto leaves nothing to chance. Any sort of plot point that might make the audience ask “what should I be feeling?” is answered by an outstandingly good-enough ditty about whatever uplifting, depressing, or quirky ethnic (but not too ethnic) things are happening at the moment. The film's length is a somewhat lethargic two hours, but like the scrappy runners who start off talented despite their lacking training and eventually become excellent, the movie eventually finds its pace.

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Is any of this new, though? There are really only two options for interchangeable sports movies like 'McFarland, USA'. The film either does its job, or it tries and fails. Thankfully, 'When the Game Stands Tall' is in the first category, and if you went in to the movie expecting to leave feeling optimistic about the power of sport, 'Miracle' is one of those movies.  Does 'A League of Their Own' do so in a way that's at all worthwhile or interesting? The answer to that is a decided "no," in spite of the inclusion of a Hispanic-American element that 'We Are Marshall' clearly hopes is a claim to fame. But despite those efforts, 'The Rookie' neither addresses the issues of the Hispanic-American population with an real depth, nor does its cursory attention produce any supremely absorbing comedy. Even 'The Replacements' visuals seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel; there were at least four instances of smash cuts to a random Hispanic man flipping some type of meat over a grill.

Again, that's not to say the movie is a total loss. There is a superbly alright amount of conflict about whether the team will come together and their star athlete will overcome the trouble at home that  mars his otherwise excellent talent. There is an outrageously okay amount of tension about whether our scrappy team will overcome the overdog team, and there is an astoundingly regular moment of choice for our coach, Mr. White, and whether or not he will abandon the team he's grown to love.

Still, none of that is enough to redeem the movie for anyone not explicitly looking for a feel-good sports film. There's an actual scene where Costner tells the team to “believe in themselves.” Yeah.

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