Named after perhaps the least exciting play in all of football, Touchback isn’t quite as tedious as its title suggests, but it’s not as inspirational as it intends either.
It’s a familiar story of redemption that might serve as a cautionary tale for athletes about life after their playing careers are finished, but ultimately it’s too sentimental to have the desired emotional impact.
The film centers on Scott Murphy (Brian Presley), who was one of the nation’s top football recruits during his glory days at an Ohio high school, before a knee injury in the state championship game abruptly ended his dreams of playing in college or in the professional ranks.
As a reunion of the state title team approaches 20 years later, Scott becomes depressed as he struggles with life as a farmer, nearing foreclosure on the property he shares with his high-school sweetheart wife (Melanie Lynskey).
Then fate gives Scott a chance to go back in time, to the week of the state title game with his coach and mentor (Kurt Russell) at his side, where he must decide whether to use the opportunity to change his future or learn to accept it.
The script by rookie director Don Handfield generally lacks subtlety, becoming a series of feel-good contrivances as it leads up to the obligatory big-game finale, complete with too many inspirational speeches to count. Handfield apparently is influenced by everything from Friday Night Lights to It’s a Wonderful Life.
Even if its feels too wholesome and sanitized (even a skinny dipping sequence is shot from a distance in soft focus), the film smartly avoids an overt spiritual message and remains committed to its characters.
The production values are slick and the performances are strong, especially Presley in a role that conveys both strength and vulnerability. And after his terrific work in Miracle, Russell knows a thing or two about portraying an on-screen coach.
However, the goofy concept keeps Touchback from becoming a convincing look at either high school or football. The premise, which is meant to teach lessons of humility and teamwork, isn’t as provocative as it aims to be.
So despite its abundant good intentions, as sports crowd-pleasers go, Touchback never quite reaches the end zone.
Rated PG-13, 118 minutes.