Review of Touchback

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Former high school football star turned farmer and family man, Scott Murphy (Brian Presley) finds himself with a unique opportunity to revisit his glory days during the Ohio State championship game where he permanently injured his knee in a game-winning play. Given a second shot at his destiny, Scott seeks counsel from Coach Hand (Kurt Russell), Scott's longtime mentor on and off the field, to help him decide whether to let his fate unfold, or follow a path that will change his future.
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Movie Review: "Touchback" --

Rating: PG-13
Length: 118 minutes
Release Date: April 13, 2012
Directed by: Don Handfield
Genre: Drama, Family and Fantasy
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

"Touchback" is a feel-good-though clichéd-story of a high school football player who gets a second chance at living his dream. Starring Brian Presley, Kurt Russell and Melanie Lynskey, the movie is unoriginal but entertaining, with a positive message.

The story opens with a flashback to Scott Murphy (Presley) in the defining moment of his high school football career: the final game in the Ohio championship series. Murphy, the quarterback, leads the team to victory but suffers a career-ending injury in the process. The movie fades back to the present and the audience sees Murphy in the present day. He is a stereotypical, washed-up high school athlete, living a life of regret and mulling over what might have been.

After a series of unfortunate circumstances threaten his farm, Murphy decides to take his own life. At this point, viewers are required to suspend their disbelief as the story takes an unexpected twist. When his suicide attempt fails, Murphy wakes up to find that he is back in high school and has a chance to start over again. The second time around, however, he has an advantage-he looks like a teenager but he has the consciousness and life experience of a middle-aged man.

Seizing his chance, Murphy does things differently. To the chagrin of his popular girlfriend, he turns his attentions to the quiet girl (Lynskey) who would later become his wife. The story unfolds in a predictable manner, with all ends neatly tied.

Melanie Lynskey carries the movie, making up for the slow script and Presley's misbegotten attempts to convey the depth of his character. Lynskey develops her character deftly, and viewers will find it easy to believe that she is both the quiet, musical teenager and the long-suffering wife. She is a skilled actress, communicating the range of human emotion with subtle facial expressions. Without her solid performance, "Touchback" would have fallen flat.

Presley, on the other hand, fades into the background. He does not possess the acting abilities to carry a leading role or to convey the significance of his character's second chance at life. The occasion is momentous-should he choose a different path to fame and fortune or look for the good in the hand he was dealt? Presley makes a valiant attempt to portray the full emotional depth of the situation but falls short. His acting is wooden at times, and he never quite manages to embrace the role.

In addition to his questionable acting abilities, Presley's appearance is a distraction throughout the film. Simply put, he is too old to play a teenager. He is curiously grizzled and looks considerably more weather-beaten than the actors playing the other teenagers. While Lynskey has the type of face that moves easily from youth to middle age, Presley is not convincing as a fresh-faced football player.

The supporting cast works well as an ensemble, buoying Presley and Lynskey and providing welcome moments of levity throughout the story. Kurt Russell is stern but inspiring as the high school football coach. Christine Lahti gives a believable performance as Murphy's determined, hardworking mother. Although their age differences are glaringly apparent, the actors playing the other high school students work well with Presley.

For sports lovers, "Touchback" is sure to be a visual delight. Director Don Handfield handles the sports scenes admirably, giving the audience the sense of exhilaration and anticipation from both the players and their cheering crowds. With a skillful mix of shots of the audience and the field, he accurately captures the feeling of football in a small town. Viewers will have no trouble believing in the spirit of the game and the camaraderie between the football team members and their supporters. There are several moments of cinematic glory, where the line between audience and actor is blurred; so effective are the camera work and sound engineering that viewers may feel that they are right there, watching the game. The feeling of excitement carries the film through some of its slower moments.

Despite its shortcomings, "Touchback" is an enjoyable movie for viewers who are not expecting a groundbreaking plot. The story flows nicely, switching seamlessly between flashbacks and present-day scenes. There are shining moments of genuine wit, bringing levity to an otherwise serious situation. The movie has a few curse words and adult themes, but is appropriate for older children; "Touchback" is movie the whole family can enjoy. The overall message is positive, and it has a light and happy ending.