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Christian basketball film doesn’t quite sink it

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Film Review: ‘Breaking the Press.’ 20th Century Fox / Mustard Seed Entertainment. 94 minutes.

Ever since the success of the football film Facing the Giants in 2006, many producers have been trying to catch the eye of that newly found niche, the churchgoing, moviegoing public. This year we’ve already seen Soul Surfer (surfing) and The 5th Quarter (more football) — and now it’s the turn of Breaking the Press.

This newest film is a retelling of the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son, in a context of high school basketball. It’s done with some success, thanks to decent acting and believable cinematography. But because of its heavy-handed spirituality, it may not get much beyond the church audience.

Brothers Josh and Matt Conaghey are friendly enemies and competitors on the basketball court at their small town high school in Texas. Unfortunately for Matt, Josh is a hotdog with a knack for grabbing and dunking the ball. It both helps and hurts that their loving, Bible-quoting dad, Joe, is also the coach.

Josh transfers to a larger high school in Dallas for a chance at the big time. Away from Dad’s influence — he’s staying with an relative — he falls in immediately with an outrageously stereotyped li’l vamp. “His Delilah,” the narrator says. She gets him drinking and partying and foolin’ around every night.

His grades slip, his on-court performance falters, and he’s expelled from school. Too proud to return home in shame, he hits the streets, working odd jobs and sleeping in alleys.

Finally he comes to his senses and loudly repents in an over-wrought night scene on the steps of a church. He comes home, literally to his father’s arms. Matt, though, may be another matter. In Josh’s absence, he has grown into the team leader. Why take back a wannabe star who has been thinking only of himself?

Breaking the Press does a better job of showing the actual sport than The 5th Quarter did. That film showed very brief clips. This one gets into the strategy (hinted in the title itself), told by coaches, players and sports announcers. The games are shot via multiple angles — from the bleachers, a balcony, overhead, even on court among the players — capturing the excitement and nimbleness of basketball.

Trivia alert: Catch a glimpse of a horror movie on TV in the Conaghey household. It’s the 2004 flick Curse of the Komodo — which starred William Langlois, one of the screenplay writers for Breaking the Press.

Although the filmmakers said they wanted to keep from being preachy, the characters toss off God words an awful lot. Granted, it’s refreshing to hear “Jesus” in a movie as something besides a swear word. But it still seems they’re trying too hard to wedge the gospel stuff in.

Josh, played by Tom Maden, comes off as hard-headed yet naïve. He wants his way and his future, but clearly can’t handle the temptations that freedom offers him. I guess that’s true to the prodigal in the parable.

The meatier role falls to Chad Halbrook, as older brother Matt. Having felt overshadowed all his life by the talented Josh, he finally comes into his own after his brother transfers — only to face him again as he returns.

Drew Waters, a veteran of the TV series Friday Night Lights, is a credible coach and father, by turns showing leadership, tough love and self-doubt. Farah White, a Paula Abdul lookalike, is his relentlessly sweet and supportive wife.

The film makes a bit of the fact that both sons are adopted. The element was apparently to make a point of the evangelical Christian belief that when you place your faith in Jesus, God “adopts” you as his child. That’s made clear in a study guide that comes with the DVD version of the film. Oddly, though, it isn’t developed much in the film itself.

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Written by Jim Davis

September 30, 2011 at 3:50 am

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