I feel like the worst thing an inspirational story can do is constantly remind the viewer that it’s trying to be inspiring every five minutes. This is exactly what director Stephen Hopkins’ new film Race tries to do incessantly. Going into this I already had an idea of the back story behind the film, but, in a bid for you to never forget the obvious things, this story will hammer you in the face with a story of overcoming adversity, even before the whole story is told. It, in turn, makes the film incredibly tiresome and tedious.
Covering bio-pics can be a tricky thing and sports ones in particular I roll into the same category as music bio-pics. If all the pieces going into the film are at the same level, one thread can be pulled that will unravel the whole thing, plummeting it into mediocrity. In Race there are multiple threads to pull in every direction causing this bloated and overbearingly bland movie to wear out it’s welcome very quickly. Yet another example of a subject who deserved a story told in a higher caliber.
The movie is the story of black American Olympic track and field multiple medalist Jesse Owens, played by Canadian actor Stephan James. The film starts out with Jesse moving out to Ohio State University from Cleveland, leaving his parents as well as his three year old daughter and his girlfriend. Already a promising natural runner, his arrival catches the eye of Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis), the struggling coach of the track and field program, desperate for a talent that will lead him to the Berlin Olympics in 1936. The two form a coach and athlete bond and try to ignore all the voices trying to hold Owens back, including the NAACP.
At the same time, there seems there might not even be an American in the event as a proposed boycott by the United States is at a high due to the rumblings of what the Hitler era Germany has proposed to do to the Jews within their country. Jeremy Irons plays Avery Brundage, a construction executive and member of the Olympic committee, who is sent to Berlin to meet with the German government members, including Joseph Goebbels. Luckily for Brundage, he gets an assist from Leni Riefenstahl, a filmmaker who nudges the famous high up Nazi official to concede to the U.S., mostly to make her film about the Berlin Olympics the best it can be.
This would all make a very interesting film but unfortunately there is a completely lack of anything special in any aspect. The writing is all very middle of the road and overtaken by the most heavy handed melodrama. Every scenes so called pivotal moment feel like an inflated balloon letting out it’s long squeal of deflation. Nothing works, nothing sticks, therefore when this story of an incredible athlete who persevered through many instances of adversity comes to a close, it’s entirely forgettable. Nothing sets Race apart from any film and I include TV movies in that statement.
It’s also odd to see former Saturday Night Live cast member Sudeikis in this dramatic second lead and disappointing to see him play it a bit hamfisted in a lot of places, whether it’s over punctuating a stress relieving shot of bourbon or overdoing the nervous handling of his fedora, it all lends itself back to the low level of care for this film. Stephan James only fares on the level of Sudeikis’s performance, maybe shouldering a little to much weigh in his feature lead debut. With no actor standing out in this, including Irons who half asses a role before he takes the stage as Bruce Wayne’s butler next month, it’s a wonder why this film was even made.
Director Hopkins is overly sloppy in his execution of this film, which includes a Bond Villain-esque depiction of Goebbels complete with ominous music, noticeably horrible green screen backdrops throughout and an overly long post script ending, Race is a movie that is constantly way too on the nose of it’s title and was in need of someone more attentive. This isn’t to say Stephen Hopkins isn’t experienced, he was the man who did good films like The Ghost and The Darkness and the cult favorite Predator 2. Race just leaned to the side of his lesser work like The Reaping or even the memorably awful adaptation of Lost In Space.
To know that we’ve had sports films in the recent past that sit well like the Vince Papale story Invincible or Jackie Robinson for 42, that we can still get presented a low grade film like Race. Heck, even the actual sports pieces in this film are lackluster. This film wants to get a rise out of you but doesn’t present anything to you over a dull roar. Want a better depiction of this story? Read Jesse Owens Wikipedia page, it might do better for you. Race gets a one out of five.