It’s probably unfair for a former track runner to judge this movie by the standards of his sport, but I’m going to anyway. Filmed around Seattle, this routine sports melodrama is weak on athletics and no stronger on story. There’s a swift but troubled teen (Kelly Blatz) being raised by a single mother (Kim Basinger); his older brother (Cam Gigandet) is a tattooed ex-con; and living next door is a cranky old alcoholic (Richard Jenkins) who used to coach record-breaking milers. The kid needs to win a scholarship to Berkeley to follow his crush (Analeigh Tipton), and the coach needs redemption. On your mark, set, go!
Lap one: The hackneyed script and stereotypical characters put director Charles-Olivier Michaud at an immediate disadvantage. The movie falls to the back of a pack of superior running pictures like Pre and Chariots of Fire. Blatz, a bland and vaguely LaBeouffian TV actor, is too blocky for the role. And Basinger, the most intriguing casting choice here, just stands around looking haggard and sad, with nothing to say, eloquent in her character’s resignation. At 440 yards, we’re already in last place.
Lap two: But wait, here comes Jenkins! Oscar-nominated for The Visitor, he’s a go-to character actor with decades of experience and a little running background himself. (Recall his FBI agent on acid in Flirting With Disaster: “You can’t catch the wind!”) And that girl Tipton, of Lucy and Warm Bodies, has a gawky, saucer-eyed charm: Audrey Hepburn meets Illeana Douglas. The movie pulls back into the pack at the half-mile mark.
Lap three: The transitions among Seattle locations are all wrong, but it’s fun to tease out how wrong they are, as in Sleepless in Seattle. The kid lopes on long-distance runs—some to mule drugs for his brother—through downtown and along the Duwamish. The coach has him do wind sprints in the briny shallows by the Ballard locks and quarter-mile repeats on the hard concrete of Fisherman’s Terminal. He races in flats, not spikes. (All this is wildly inaccurate, as any boxer would tell you of Rocky; but The Karate Kid is more the model here.) “You got to face that fear,” the coach tells the kid. Prepare for the final kick.
Lap four: The bell sounds. 4 Minute Mile aims to be inspirational, not realistic; but you almost wish it were one of those stealth evangelical projects, just so you could guess its pious agenda. The uplifting outcome here is easy to divine. The kid does, in fact, face his fear during a kind of Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus training run. And his final race turns out to be a solo time trial—first place is the only place, winning beside the point—with an implausible final number on the stopwatch. Sayeth the movie poster, “The hardest race is against yourself.” The filmmakers might’ve considered the same challenge. Runs Fri., Aug. 1–Thurs., Aug. 7 at Sundance Cinemas. Rated PG-13. 96 minutes.