DVD Review - Touchback

This movie has a lot of clichés, a lot of sentimentality and a lot of predictable stuff, which any smart movie-goer can see a mile coming, but it's always impressive when a movie can overcome all of those clichés and still win me over. Sports films are typically like that. Romantic comedies are the same. Both those genres revel in clichés or tropes that make them safe to market but a rarity to shine or be innovative or creative on a storytelling or cinematic level.

This is particularly true for sports films. Sports films could just be a series of ESPN highlights, which ostensibly are boring. That's why sports films generally try to be more than just about the sports. By this decade, sports films have followed a structure or pattern that kills the spirit that any spectator is supposed to have when rooting for a protagonist in a game. Here Comes the Boom (2012) is the most recent offender of this. Sports films have to use the game as a vehicle for exploring another issue or challenging the values of a particular character.

One film in which that was a surprise was Million Dollar Baby (2004). In that Oscar-winner, the sport of boxing was just a vehicle for exploring another issue or challenging the values of the character played by Clint Eastwood. Touchback similarly uses the sport of football to challenge the values of the character played by Brian Presley. Besides incorporating elements of Friday Night Lights (2004), this movie also incorporates elements of It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Young Again (1986). I just noticed Sam Adams' review that makes reference also to Peggy Sue Got Married (1986).

The essential question at the heart of the movie is if you had to do it all over again, would you do it all the same. Would you make the same choices? Brian Presley stars as Scott Murphy, a football player-turned-farmer living in rural Ohio who was on the rise during his senior year of high school. For those who don't know Presley, he made a name for himself in daytime TV drama. He was in a soap opera and was your typical soap stud, but I always felt that there was more to him.

Even though it's been about a decade since his soap opera days, Presley still has his Tom Cruise good looks. Yet, the opening of this movie and in fact the first reel has Presley depicting Scott as ugly as he can. Scott seems older than his age, which is probably mid to late thirties. Scott is scruffy, dirty, hairy and fat with a bum leg. He's not the star football player that he used to be. He drives a beaten, blue, pickup truck. He tends to his 200-acre farm growing all soybeans. He lives with his wife Macy, played by Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures and Two and a Half Men) and two prepubescent daughters in an old, rundown farm house in 2011.

Through a series of circumstances like dominoes falling, Scott wakes up in the year 1991. His 2011 mind has gone back and inhabited his 1991 body. He's well-kept, clean, smooth-shaven and buff with perfect legs. He's once again the big man on campus, the quarterback and jock around whom the school and thus the town revolves.

Scott starts to relive his senior year and he realizes that he's coming to the pivotal point which led him to becoming a depressed soybean farmer and not the rich NFL athlete that he dreamed he would. Scott knows what he has to do to change his life. You think things would be easy, but there's one wrinkle. If he chooses to change his life and become a rich athlete, he'll lose Macy, his wife and mother of his two daughters, the woman he still loves.

Of course, Scott tries to cheat and he tries to have his cake and eat it too. He tries to bring Macy into his alternate future, but it might not work. It boils down to him wanting to stay or go, to repeat history or create a new one, a potentially better one.

From the beginning, there's a lot about this movie that's predictable. I was almost ready to give up on it, but there's a crucial scene that happens very early. It's a brief scene, but, as far as I'm concerned, it's the scene that nails what this movie is all about and why any one should and would care about this story and its characters. It's also a scene that showcases either how good a writer-director Don Handfield is or how good Presley and Lynskey are as actors, or it might do both. Either way, this brief scene sold the whole piece and made me fall in love with this movie.

It's a scene that follows a good scene where Scott and Macy meet Scott's best friend and former teammate from high school Hall, played by Marc Blucas (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Necessary Roughness). Hall started dating and is now married to Scott's ex-girlfriend Jenny, played by Sarah Wright (7th Heaven and Parks and Recreation). It's a very good scene, and it sets the stage for the following, which is the one I really praise. The dynamic between Presley and Lynskey is perfect. I think they have great chemistry. You get where each is coming and how they feel with little dialogue and just a few looks. It's just really well-played.

Throughout the movie, there is a flow of familiar situations, but they all work because of the way they're played. The movie is buttressed with great supporting performances from Kurt Russell (The Thing and Silkwood) and Christine Lahti (Chicago Hope and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), but at its core is Presley who does refreshing things. In particular, there is a skinny dip scene that doesn't progress or end in a way that you'd expect. It was moments like this and the previous between Presley and Lynskey that really sold me.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some mature elements.
Running Time: 2 hrs.


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