Mark Reviews Movies

The Mighty Macs


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Tim Chambers

Cast: Carla Gugino, Marley Shelton, Ellen Burstyn, Katie Hayek, Kim Blair, David Boreanaz, Margaret Anne Florence, Meghan Sabia, Bianca Brunson, Kate Nowlin, Taylor Steel

MPAA Rating: G

Running Time: 1:42

Release Date: 10/21/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 20, 2011

Here is yet another sports movie about an underdog team beating the odds and somehow saving the day. The "somehow" is necessary to point out, because The Mighty Macs is quite good at leaving such vital things as how, in fact, the basketball team of a small, all-girls Catholic university manages to resurrect a school that is about to be sold off to whoever is willing to buy.

Money is a massive hurdle for the team at Immaculata University; they have none. The school's gym burned down in a fire, and whatever insurance money the university might have received has to go to higher priorities, like running the school itself. The team's practice area is an old recreation room that has since been transformed into a storage closet. Their uniforms are dated even for 1971—dresses tied with cloth belts over collared shirts. It looks to be a disastrous season (The movie also lets us know it's a time of social change with references to Nixon, Vietnam, and the feminist movement on the radio), and that's even before any of their games begin.

Enter Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino), a full-time wife who wants to assert some of her independence by applying for the coaching job at the college. Since she's the only applicant, Mother St. John (Ellen Burstyn), the school's president, really has no choice but to hire her.

Cathy is not so much the product of her time as she is the result of countless, similar stories about a team of losers destined to win featuring a tough-as-nails coach who's really only hard on the players because she wants what's best for them. She has a way of making everything about basketball, including leading her team into the middle of the woods after a humiliating loss and making them slide in defensive position through a low-clearing drainage pipe in the bitter cold. It's a test, you see, and not abusive, because she knows that tough love gets results. Indeed, it does, and, mother of all obvious miracles, the team actually wants to be at practice and work hard to finally start winning some games.

Cathy introduces the audience to the team (Yes, there is indeed occasional narration, as if the screenplay by writer/director Tim Chambers doesn't make every point perfectly clear without it) with the following line: "We ended up with 15 girls with 15 different stories, and it didn't take long to hear them all." We only get to hear three of those stories, so apparently the other 12 girls aren't actually all that important.

Lizanne Caufield (Kim Blair) is the de facto head of the crew by simple virtue of having a steady boyfriend who can't give her an engagement ring but is more than willing to hand over his letterman jacket. Trish Sharkey (Katie Hayek) is the poor girl of the bunch who, we guess, overcomes the stigma of her family's poverty by being the best player the team. Jen Galentino (Meghan Sabia) is also mentioned for some unknown reason among the trio, as her only personal characteristic is that she's eager to get out of the house. The rest are known by other attributes: For example, one is tall, and another has a fine Irish name if there ever was one.

Cathy's assistant coach is Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton) who is suffering the spiritual crisis of questioning her calling (She becomes annoyed by the sound of the team practicing as she prays for a sign, and the rest of the movie's humor is indeed as predictable as this bit). Sunday is the calming factor to Cathy's determination (When the coach sends the team back and forth through the pipe, Sunday keeps repeating the same statements of disapproval). There's a scene in the bar between them in which the two discuss Cathy's troubled marriage (Her husband (David Boreanaz), a professional basketball referee, doesn't approve of her decision to take the job until he does without any scene in between showing why he might have such a change of heart) that at least sees them as more than the clichéd assemblages of types that they are, though, unfortunately, Chambers' dialogue is so stilted that even the charming Gugino and Shelton cannot make it work.

During that dialogue, Cathy says a particular statement of Sunday's is the cheesiest thing she's ever heard, which makes us wonder if she ever listens to herself speak. When not pushing her team to physical exercises that result in a montage, she is spouting inspirational phrases and speechifying about the significance of the impending moment when they will face the toughest competition and prove that they have overcome the cosmetic shortcomings that others see because they are, above all, a team. Cue the rousing music underneath.

We know this kind of material can work, but The Mighty Macs seems to toil to ensure that it does not. Take the climactic Big Games of the finale, where we're once again presented with an obnoxious announcer who lays out the already-established exposition and then proceeds to give a play-by-play account of what's happening on-screen ("She dribbles. She shoots") as if that will somehow encourage our involvement.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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