When Tim Tebow gave up his NFL dream and turned to movie producing, it’s no surprise that he sought out a story about two things he knows — faith, and football.
So don’t expect the movie that comes with his name attached to it, “Run the Race,” to come with many surprises. Abrupt tests of faith, misdirection plays that life hurls at the heroes — sure. The aw-shucks, zero-profanity, tinged-with-tragedy story may have “family friendly” written all over it. But the Christianity feels a little shoehorned in, even if it is this faith-based sports drama’s reason for existing.
Tanner Stine and Evan Hofer play teenage brothers, basically raising themselves in tiny Bessemer, Alabama. Zach Truett (Stine) is nicknamed “Zach-attack” on the gridiron. Skinny and chicken-chested he might be, but he’s the wily star running back of the Bessemer Rebels, with dreams of impressing college scouts — particularly one from the University of Florida (Tebow’s alma mater).
Younger brother Dave (Hofer) is the responsible one, who maintains their jobs at the market run by godmother Louise (Frances Fisher). Dave goes to church and has a Bible at his fingertips. He can’t play football thanks to a brain injury a previous season. Not to worry. Zach is “getting us outta here. You have my word on it!”
You know what’s coming. Zach and his good ol’boy party pals get into a beer bust dust-up with some players from a rival school, Zach’s knee is damaged, ending his football season.
Might Dave be able to make the track team, win a scholarship and complete their overall mission, escaping the “trap” of a town they’re stuck in and the drunken father (Kristofer Polaha) who is, to Zach, “just some dude who left us after our mom died?”
There are plenty of signs of life in this conventional “sports is our ticket out” drama. Mykelti Williamson of “Forrest Gump” is spot-on as the motivating, cheer-leading coach who frets more about what an irresponsible kid might have done to “my season” than hos future. The script, of course, rubs that edge off.
Mario Van Peebles is perfectly charismatic as the preacher whose “Somedays” sermons, about things we’ll all get around to “someday,” reach Dave if not the absent Zach.
And there’s cute chemistry with the film’s love interest, the nurse intern Ginger (Kelsey Reinhardt of TV’s “Transparent”), whom Zach meets twice in the hospital, the second time flat on his back with an ACL tear.
“I remember you telling me how good you were.”
The odd good line — Dave changing the brothers’ escape plan with “I’d rather us be running TO something, than from something” — isn’t so much lost in the mix as kicked to the side with repeated interjections of religion.
That’s the way they play here, like an afterthought. Zach finding out Ginger is a devout Christian (he was raised that way by his mother, but gave up on it) and flunking The Jesus Test at his first meeting with their parents, Dave taking Pastor Baker’s homily that “You’ll be surprised how things start to change when you forgive someone” to heart in an instant regarding their hard-luck, hard-drinking but perfectly groomed dad.
The script takes a serious shot at stealing a little of that “I Can Only Imagine” magic with that redemption of the dad tack. Polaha is no Dennis Quaid, and like every other character, even no-good Dad has his edges rubbed off.
“Run the Race” never feels more abrupt that in its final jerks and jolts to an unexpected, unsubtle and undeserving climax.
But it’s competent on several levels, generally well-acted and no more unpleasant than it is challenging.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic content and some teen partying.
Cast: Evan Hofer, Tanner Stine, Mykelti Williamson, Frances Fisher, Kelsey Reinhardt. Mario Van Peebles, Kristofer Polaha
Credits: Directed by Chris Dowling, script by Jake McEntire, Jason Baumgardner and Chris Dowling. A Roadside Attractions release.
Running time: 1:41