Touchback (2011) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

I have to admit upfront, I’m a big sucker for this type of movie. You can call it the It’s a Wonderful Life genre, a story in which the main character gets a second chance to relive a seminal moment in his young life that causes a cataclysmic change in his future life. This is not centered on a Christmas theme though, it’s actually a football movie, and a damn good one at that. Excuse the obligatory Rocky reference that typically accompanies most sports movies, but this feels like it was influenced by the lithe handed work of director John G. Avildsen. To be fair it is more in line with his work on The Karate Kid than Rocky. Particularly in the low key working class family and neighborhoods that populate the picture.

With the bank looking to foreclose on his farm and an especially brutal winter frost threatening to destroy the crops, Scott Murphy’s (Presley) life is in upheaval. 15 years prior Murphy was know as Mr. Football in town, saddled with good looks and natural athleticism, everybody assumed Scott would be a NFL star. A horrific injury on the winning drive of the State Championship, vanquished those dreams forever. Would his life have been better had he thrown the ball to an open receiver instead of running into the end-zone himself?

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In a moment of darkness Scott attempts suicide by ingesting the exhaust from his beat-up truck. Slipping out of consciousness, Scott Murphy awakens a fresh-faced 18 year old senior, relieving 1991 again. Life is great for the teenage version of Murphy, he is dating the prettiest girl in school, and his mother is still alive. Unfortunately his future wife, played by Melanie Lynskey (bearing a striking resemblance to a young Elizabeth Perkins) wants nothing to do with the overly arrogant jock. Following the formula of the genre, there will come a moment when Scott must make that faithful decision again, choosing to either forgo his current future for a different path or making the same choices as before.

Kurt Russell plays the football coach, in a similar role to his terrific work in Miracle. Even though Russell could sleepwalk through the role, he decides to injects life into a character that would otherwise be caricature. Has there, ever been another American actor so typically solid yet never nominated for a Oscar? I’ve always said Jeff Bridges and Kurt Russell are our most overlooked actors when it comes to awards acclaim, Bridges finally received his Oscar in 2009 and it’s long since overdue for Russell. Maybe he will have to wait and receive one of those honorary awards in another 20 years, I digress.

Touchback has been beautifully photographed by cinematographer David Morrison and directed with a sure hand by Don Handfield, who dials down the sentimentality and finds the right note for the picture. Story-wise this is like Mr. Destiny mixed with a touch of Russell’s own football flick The Best of Times. Although Touchback has been called a faith based movie, I feel like that is not wholly accurate. I have seen several films that fit into that genre, Touchback puts its faith in the decency of humans helping each other. Despite its PG-13 rating this is recommended viewing for the entire family. Touchback is quite a surprise.

Director: Don Handfield
Stars: Brian Presley, Kurt Russell, Marc Blucas

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