William Goss April 13, 2012
Coldwater, Ohio seems like it might resemble a lot of small towns these days. It’s a mere shell of a community in the wake of its factory closing, with a local bank that can no longer help but foreclose on properties following an especially weak harvest. For Scott Murphy (Brian Presley), the circumstances — combined with a career-ending football injury from long ago — are enough to drive him to suicide, out of hopes that his family can live on with the settlement from his life insurance.
As Scott attempts to grow soybeans, though, writer-director Don Handfield is all about reaping the corn, and his Touchback isn’t the second coming of The Grapes of Wrath so much as it is a sturdy (if safe) update of It’s a Wonderful Life. For whatever reason — we do dwell on his medal from that fateful state championship game — Scott’s suicide attempt instead returns him back to 1991, his senior year of high school, to see if he’d still choose his cheerleader girlfriend at the time and the promise of Ohio State glory over his eventual wife, Macy (Melanie Lynskey), the daughters they would have and The Play That Would Change Everything.
It’s a film resolutely disinterested in surprises and positively steeped in nostalgia (the soundtrack runs the gamut from the ‘90s, with “Life is a Highway,” to the ‘70s, with “More Than a Feeling”), but at the risk of damning with faint praise, Touchback is the type of small-town drama that tends to turn out much worse — much preachier in its content, more amateurish in its presentation — only to receive a pass for promoting wholesome values above actual filmmaking faculties. William Ross’ score and David Morrison’s cinematography each help to give Handfield’s feature debut a considerable sense of purpose and place, and the religious factor that often arises as a cure-all in projects of this modest scale and wistful tone is nowhere to be found, leaving admittedly corny but fundamentally character-driven drama to drive the proceedings rather than simplistic sermonizing.
Granted, parking a successful friend’s Porsche beside Scott’s beat-up pick-up truck isn’t exactly subtle, while a once-ignored band petition gets circulated with laughable fervor once our more considerate jock gets his hands on it. Seeing the thirty-something Presley and Lynskey as their teenage selves is never quite convincing — though I suppose that’s easier to swallow than the alternative — and once Scott finds himself back on the football field, Handfield gets a bit carried away with employing slow-motion to emphasize each and every dramatic turn of events. But Presley and Lynskey do a decent job of conveying their dreams, doubts and frustrations at stages in their life decades apart. Better yet, Kurt Russell brings an effortless conviction to delivering even the most generic of game-defining speeches as the team’s coach, and Christine Lahti has a nicely weighted turn as Scott’s hard-working single mother.
Are any of them alone reason enough to sit through two hours of warmed-over life lessons? Not particularly, but it should be said that, together, the cast and crew of Touchback has made a fair stride towards redeeming earnest low-budget filmmaking at a time when the arena for such fare seems to be more often than not exploited for its baseline expectations.
Categories: ReviewsTags: Brian presley, Don handfield, Kurt russell, Melanie lynskey, Movie review, Touchback