Touchback

Touchback770
It's deja vu all over again (oh no, wait...)Photo: Anchor Bay Films

High 3 StarsWhy I Saw It: Invited to a press screening, enjoy Kurt Russell and Christine Lahti, and becoming quite curious about Melanie Lynskey.
What I Thought: [Time Very Well Spent] It’s a Wonderful Life meets The Best of Times. (Oh look, there’s Kurt Russell…)

Touchback. Dir. Don Handfield. Perf. Brian Presley, Kurt Russell, Christine Lahti, Melanie Lynskey, Marc Blucas, Sarah Wright, Kevin Covais, Sianoa Smit-McPhee. Anchor Bay Films, 2012.

A struggling small-town farmer is given an opportunity to replay the events preceding his NFL career-ending injury.


A real crowd-pleaser, Touchback hits strong themes with a gentle touch, giving us an excellent option both for date night and family outing. Think It’s a Wonderful Life meets The Best of Times.

Here our hero has a chance to rewrite history and claim his once-certain dream of playing pro football, lost due to injury in the last game of his high school career. What must he change in order to make it happen? What must he give up? What, if anything, will he gain (other than the obvious)? Are his assumptions of what life is, and could have been, actually true? Does he need to start seeing things clearly, or stop focusing on how things are?

There are no new themes here, but then one could argue there are no new themes, period. Thus said, when embarking on well-worn themes, skillful execution reigns. Writer/director Don Handlfield and company execute well enough to recommend Touchback easily. When it succeeds, it succeeds. Certain choices and their aftermaths become quite nerve-wracking before the end, and it was fun to watch the screening audience wide-eyed and frozen, clapping and cheering. Touchback is a good time.

It does have a few forces creating drag, sad but true (and why it gets three stars instead of four). The score’s quieter moments disserve by creating a sense of melodrama where true drama exists. Ignore this. Touchback is introspective but never maudlin; focus instead on the dialogue and be not dissuaded.

And true, characters appear largely consistent on both sides of the 15-year age gap. But hey, that’s just budget, and the crew do well with what they have. So Presley looks like a grownup on the field and Blucas looks like a kid driving Daddy’s Porsche; just grant it and move on.

But unfortunately, we’re given zero evidence as to why our fictional Coldwater is such a Special Place. Two short sequences of expositive dialogue halfway through the film are utterly insufficient to this task. Perhaps Handfield had a small-town experience so lovely it became global assumption; I myself, however, did time in a non-fictional Ohio River Valley population two-thousand town (complete with three-stack power plant), and can personally attest that this does not ipso facto mean it is communal and kind. I assumed no vice, but granted nary a virtue.

Such a material fact must be instilled into the audience’s own experience, beyond some supporting character’s personal opinion. George Bailey might want out and we get that, but we still know for ourselves that Bedford Falls is a good place to be. That we weren’t thus bonded to Coldwater lessened the impact of some important events. (When you see the Population 2400 sign, go “Aww,” and just thow it some love.)

So duly forearmed, check out Touchback and have a good time! Unless you’re a curmudgeon, you’ll come out in good spirits, guaranteed.

And when you’re done, queue up The Best of Times for a lovely pairing (oh look, there’s Kurt Russell…). There we have Robin Williams as a small-town grownup having fumbled the deciding play in the Big Game back in high school, has been tormented by it ever since, and hopes to redeem himself when the town puts together a reunion game. It’s what Touchback will be when it grows up.

Melanie Lynskey is also worth paying some attention to in general ~ her roles and performances are similar, but she’s good at what she does, and has built quite an interesting body of work indeed. Low-key but always key, with a remarkable range of subject matter. Follow her and you’ll never be bored.

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