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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

TOUCHBACK -- Blu-Ray/DVD review by porfle

Sort of a cross between a guy flick and a chick flick (a "Chuck" flick?), TOUCHBACK (2011) mixes the rah-rah suspense of a gridiron yarn with the heart-tugging emotion of a Hallmark Channel weepie.  And it pretty much works, or at least it did for me.

Scott Murphy (Brian Presley, END GAME) is a former "Mr. Football" who quarterbacked his tiny high school's team to the state championship before sustaining a career-ending injury while making the game-winning touchdown.  Now a bitter and down-on-his-luck bean farmer stuck forever in Coldwater (or as he calls it, "Backwater"), Scott suffers a series of setbacks that finally prompt him to attempt suicide so that his wife Macy (Melanie Lynskey, HEAVENLY CREATURES) and two daughters will benefit from his life insurance.

TOUCHBACK starts out as a seriously downbeat flick as things just keep going from bad to worse for Scott, coming to a head when frost threatens to ruin his entire bean crop.  But then, suddenly, his aborted suicide becomes a trip back in time to his senior year in high school and the story takes an abrupt left turn into fantasy territory.  ("What's going on?  Am I dead?" he asks himself.)

Faced with the chance to do it all over again, Scott is now able to tweak everything so that it all turns out better than before, with his main emphasis being to avoid his career-ending injury and go on to become a big-time pro football player. 

This is where Scott's plan hits its biggest snag, however.  His injury, it turns out, was the reason he met his future wife Macy, a volunteer hospital worker when she wasn't playing in the school band.  Lacking this special circumstance, Scott is destined to marry his high school flame Jenny (Sarah Wright), a blonde homecoming queen who dreams of becoming Mrs. Football. 

Scott's desire to get back together with his beloved Macy despite everything else is what forms the emotional heart of TOUCHBACK, along with his attempts to make right other bad relationships he's had with various people (i.e.,"nerds") whom he previously felt were beneath him.  Another heart-tugging aspect of the story is his reunion with his late mother Thelma (Christine Lahti), a factory worker who toils endlessly to make him happy while trying to teach him the really important things in life. 

The film has its lighthearted moments, as when Scott, still dazed by his sudden transition back to youth, hits the field for his first practice session in several years and is knocked for a loop while still having the time of his life.  His tentative friendships with social "undesirables", including Macy herself, are both awkwardly amusing and touching, including his efforts at matchmaking between shy geek Todd (Kevin Covais) and a formidable blonde waitress named Sasha (Sianoa Smit-McPhee, lookalike sister of Kodi Smit-McPhee of LET ME IN).  

Naturally, the whole thing builds up to the big game with a powerhouse rival team--which we glimpsed at the start of the movie, including Scott's wince-inducing knee injury--and whether or not he has learned anything from his recent "instant replay."  Having gained a whole new appreciation for his hometown and the people in it, we get to see how his newfound enlightenment plays out on the field, particularly when one of the team's perpetual benchwarmers is summoned onto the field to take part in a major play. 

It's an exciting enough sequence that's very nicely directed (by Don Handfield) and choreographed so that even non-football fans should be able to keep up and stay interested.  Kurt Russell is a warm and likable presence as Coldwater's Coach Hand, the motivational heart of the team.  As the game winds down to its final seconds, we're wondering what course Scott will choose--the glittering road to success and fame in pro football, or the well-worn path of a humble farmer's life with Macy.

The Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Bonuses are a making-of featurette and a commentary featuring Handfield and Presley.

I like the shots of quarterback Scott gazing over at his beloved Macy in her band uniform during the big game--heck, by that time I wanted to marry her myself.  What follows is a tearful wrap-up that aspires to the emotional heights of Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  I didn't find the climax of TOUCHBACK to be quite that effective, but was moved nonetheless. 

Buy it at
Blu-Ray/DVD combo


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