Movie Review: “Range Runners” find violence on the Appalachian Trail

Mel’s been tested all her life. It started with her Daddy (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) on the track.

“You body always fights against you,” he’d growl, as teen Mel whimpered in pain. “It doesn’t tell you what to do!”

She ran and ran and found purpose. And now, she’s running the (never-named) Appalachian Trail, tearing off 200 mile pieces of it every eight days.

Sister Chloe (Tiffany Renee Johnson), doing her support, catching up to refresh her supplies at every stop on her “grand adventure,” wonders “What’s this about?” And “Mom told me to tell you you’re wasting your life.”

But Mel (a fierce Celeste M. Cooper of “Chicago P.D.”) is focused, when she’s not having flashbacks about those years on the track. She’s pounding out the miles at a dead sprint, and taking the punishment.

That can only be a help when she faces her ultimate test, right? Sure, she misses the obvious warning bells, stumbling into two out-of-their-element criminals (Sean Patrick Leonard and Michael B. Woods) in the middle of nowhere. But if they don’t kill her, she’ll power through this nightmare with sheer will.

There’s a lot that’s entirely too-obvious in “Range Runners,” a trail-\running B-movie thriller with moments that defy common sense and villain’s lines that make you cringe.

“You like playing games, don’t you?

The flashbacks — Mariah Gordon plays teen Mel — rather pointlessly over-emphasize Mel’s “preparation” for her gravest challenge. What they’re most successful at is stopping Philip S. Plowden’s thriller dead in its tracks. Repeatedly.

The script puts Mel in jeopardy, and sets us up for “the tables have turned.” But she comes off as physically confident, but head-slappingly naive at every turn.

Thuggish stranger meets her on the trail wants to see her prized knife? Sure, hand it over. Gets away from the bad guys, who have weapons and her food and backpack. Sure, let’s not make a quick, injured run to civilization. Let’s chase’em!

Cooper is solid in the lead, the villains are cartoons and any hallucinations that bring her sister into her predicament with her are the sorts of traps they warn you about in Screenwriting 201.

But the movie’s Achilles heel is pacing. Mel’s on a mission, galloping through the Appalachian “range” she’s running. Once the villains show up, the menace increases, but the urgency fades.

And then, damned if another flashback doesn’t show up and bring everything to an utter stop. Again.

MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, profanity

Cast: Celeste M Cooper, Sean Patrick Leonard, Michael B. Woods and Tiffany Renee Johnson.

Credits: Directed by Philip S. Plowden, script by Devon Colwell. A DarkStar release.

Running time: 1:56

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