The instant “Forever Strong” begins, anyone who spends at least a few hours per month watching movies will be able to predict the opening, middle, and conclusion of the film. Created under the vague guise of “inspirational cinema,” “Strong” is a sloppy, soggy pile of clichés, unable to sort itself out, grow a pair of cinematic cojones, and actually try to subvert some of its rancid formula (allegedly based on a true story). Sure, the film means well, but that doesn’t excuse the numbing lethargy of the filmmaking, making for an agonizingly tedious sit.A frustrated high school rugby athlete with daddy issues, Rick (Sean Faris) has headed down a path of self-destructive behavior, culminating in an arrest for drunk driving. Sent to a juvenile detention center run by Marcus (Sean Astin), Rick is immediatley resentful, refusing to partake in the center’s rehabilitation programs. Urged by Marcus to sniff around the center’s rugby team, Rick takes to the competition, finding leadership from Coach Larry Gelwix (Gary Cole) fills him with a newfound sense of discipline. Trying to push through his own rehabilitation, Rick struggles with his demons, finding the heart of his problems reside in the unresolved tension with his father (Neal McDonough).
"What is this rugby and why should I care?"
Rugby is the novelty of “Forever Strong,” and the film’s lone element of surprise. By taking on a sport that’s rarely showcased in the American film industry, “Strong” automatically has a gimmick, something eye-catching to lasso in viewers nursing a curiosity about the game. It’s a convincing angle, given a respectfully lived-in perspective by director Ryan Little. The filmmaker clearly holds rugby in high esteem, taking special care to preserve the rules, roughhousing, and ultimately the brotherhood of the sport. For someone like me, who held little in the way of rugby knowledge before viewing the film, “Strong” provides a nice CliffsNotes overview of the everywhere-but-here sporting phenomenon. If only that specialized thumbprint was extended to the rest of the story.
Written by Dave Pliler, “Strong” abuses formula to create an urgent backdrop for the rugby sequences. Imagine every single sporting and troubled teen cliché around, and I assure you, Pliler found time to write a laborious scene around it. Again, it’s all in the name of providing familiarity to less demanding audiences, permitting them a pliable structure to best accentuate the positivity Little is hoping to milk for everything it’s worth. However, sitting through these excruciatingly lazy “Remember the Titans” (one of a thousand examples I could pull for this picture) leftovers, reheated through the exhaustively limited gifts of actors like Faris (you might remember this actor playing the exact same role in 2008’s idiotic MMA film, “Never Back Down”), is an arduous event.Would you believe Rick uses his tight-knit rugby unit to become a better man? Oh, I might be a ghoul for picking on the relentless positivity of “Forever Strong.” After all, there’s no harm in trying to heal the world through inspirational hokum. However, an intelligent screenplay never hurt a soul either, and the more “Forever Strong” shellacs on the suffocating cliché, the more it dilutes the uplifting message it’s trying desperately to convey.
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originally posted: 06/13/09 02:45:51