Another movie about some underdog sports team that, through determination and, of course, motivation from a hard-working coach, will somehow rise to the top.
Here’s something you probably didn’t know about me. I don’t watch preview trailers before seeing a movie; I even try hard not to see any posters. I want to go in cold, knowing nothing of what I’m about to see. When I sat down at an advance screening for “The Mighty Macs,” I did, alas, know it was about basketball. Then those dreaded words flashed across the screen: “Inspired by a true story.” Oh, no! Another movie about some underdog sports team that, through determination and, of course, motivation from a hard-working coach, will somehow rise to the top. When I realized, a few minutes later, that it was about a girls’ basketball team at an early-‘70s-era Catholic college for women that has only one ratty basketball and no place to play. ...
Wait. Let the dialogue speak for itself.
Eager new coach Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino) to cold, all-business Mother Superior (Ellen Burstyn): “Can I have a key to the gym?” Mother Superior to Cathy: “You won’t need one (long pause for effect) ... it burned down three months ago.” But that’s OK with Cathy. She’s happy with her new low-paying gig at Immaculata College, even though her pro basketball ref husband (David Boreanaz) would rather have her stay home and start a family, or at least go away on a vacation with him. Selfish fellow, don’t you think? Oh, he’ll get over it, thinks Cathy. And praise the Lord, he does. Immediately. In fact, everyone in this relentlessly cheery movie gets over their seemingly insurmountable problems as if they were mosquito bites.
No gym? That’s all right. We’ll fix up the old, abandoned former activities center-turned-storeroom into a nice basketball court. But what about poor Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton), who’s having some doubts about her faith and struggling with her calling? No worries. While she’s kneeling in chapel, looking for spiritual direction, she hears the distant whistle of Cathy putting her team through a practice session. Soon, she’s known as assistant coach Sister Sunday. Later on, one of the girls suffers from some boyfriend trouble. All it takes is a little cry to get her to stop thinking about him. Uh-oh, the college is having some cash flow problems, and the crusty old Monsignor is pulling Mother Superior aside and admitting, “It will take an act if God to save this school.” The script is a little fuzzy about how it gets over that barrier, but Immaculata still exists today.
Among all of this pap is a plethora of pep talks, most of them from the coach to the team. The first one comes at the 14-minute mark. Eighteen more of them, of varying lengths and intensity, follow. If those don’t stir you up, there’s always the uninventive musical score that brings strings welling up at dramatic moments, and adds in some blaring horns when teams go against each either on the court.
The script is also filled with messages, to the effect of “don’t suffer the possibility of a life of regret because of being afraid to take a risk” and “have the courage to follow your dreams.” This is by-the-numbers filmmaking, made by a first-time director, and feeling very much like it was. It’s set up to let no sappy cliche remain unturned, and never lets you feel that anything is really at stake. It’s neither about whether you win or lose, nor how you play the game. And no matter how big the crowds of supporters become or how high the announcers’ voices get, there’s just nothing to get excited about.
THE MIGHTY MACS (Rated G) Cast includes Carlo Gugino, Marley Shelton, Ellen Burstyn. 1 star out of 4.