“McFarland, USA” is the latest “Based on a True Story” sports drama from the studio king of the genre, Disney. This time, the Mouse House employees had to go all the way back to 1987 to find their latest inspirational, underdog story. And, after using baseball, football, basketball, hockey, horse racing, golf, bobsledding, and even cricket with last year’s “Million Dollar Arm”, I do give Disney credit for daring to greenlight a script about one of the least popular sports: High School cross country running.
Does “McFarland, USA” follow the traditional, predictable Disney sports movie formula? Absolutely. Fish-out-of-water high school football coach Jim White (played by sports movie king Kevin Costner) moves with his wife (Maria Bello) and two daughters to the small, Mexican-American migrant worker town of McFarland, CA and decides to start a cross country team at the school after noticing four kids in his gym class who excel at running.
A total of seven boys join the team. Some must pick in the fields before school and after practice. Together they, along with Coach Blanco, must work together, and overcome many hurdles, in order to become a successful team and maybe, just maybe…CHAMPIONS!
“McFarland, USA” is packed with all the sports story swerves you’d expect – no respect from opponents, troubles at home, the fight against incredible odds. However, unlike the dull and corny “Arm”, thanks to authentic performances (particularly from a very good Costner) and a grounded, not-too-overly sentimental approach, “McFarland, USA” is largely able to rise above a formulaic script. The film actually kept my interest for nearly the entire time. It doesn’t demand a 100% emotional investment, nor does it provide the excitement of other sports dramas, such as “Secretariat”, but it’s solid, serious and satisfying family drama that paces itself nicely and gets to the finish line with its head held high.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “McFarland, USA” gets a B-. But you’ve got wonder what’s left for Disney in the “based on a true story sports drama” front? With cross country off the list, can bowling, synchronized swimming or field hockey be next in line? I bet the studio’s crack staff of researchers are already hard at work.
Running Time: 129 min.