'Touchback' is a sports movie so you can imagine the scenario. Times running out in the fourth quarter and the little high school team from Coldwater Ohio is the fight of their lives from the bigger school up north. The State Championship is on the line and while the big school has the better team, the little school has the best player, that being High School Senior Scott Murphy (Brian Presley) who is destined for greatness once this game is over. Last play, they need a touchdown to win. He drops back, he could throw the ball but he takes off running, dives for goal line and TOUCHDOWN!!! Unfortunately, Scott isn't celebrating because his knee is bent at an angle that is completely unnatural, and the great things the Scott Murphy was destined for will be no more. But what if something happened... I don't know, something magical... that gave Scott Murphy a second chance.
That was 1991. Fast forward twenty years and Scott Murphy is the poster child for 'crap life'. Sure he has a loving a devoted wife in Macy (Melanie Lynskey) and two lovable little girls, but it doesn't look like to me he's all that crazy about this devoted wife of his. I mean it just looks that way. Apparently this isn't the case, but he is kind of short with poor Macy, the motel laundry maid. He has a farm growing soy beans that is on the verge of being repossessed by the bank, his friends are all drunken losers, he still loves football but instead of helping his old coach Hand (Kurt Russell) he just chastises him on what a lousy coach he is, he still needs a knee brace to get around, and it's the twenty year anniversary of that championship team which will pry all of those old wounds wide open. This is exacerbated by the fact that Hall (Marc Blucas) his former best friend from high school, will be back in town with his NFL glory and also with his old girlfriend Jenny the Anchorwoman (Sarah Wright) as his wife. Scott's only hope to salvage anything out of this current life of his is to prematurely reap his soy beans, a situation required by a very uncommon early frost, and sell them off to give some money to the bank. That didn't work either. Scott, the man who would be king, is now a certified loser. He believes his family would be better off if he was just dead.
Scott Murphy can't even do that right. You see when Scott regains consciousness, it's 1991 again. He's young, whole, still has his cheerleader girlfriend and the big game against that oppressive team up north is just days away. More importantly, his mom Thelma (Christine Lahti) is still alive. After readjusting to this shocking development,
Scott has a chance to make things right. The thing that derailed him in that game twenty years ago will not happen, his hard working mother will not have to work so hard anymore and hopefully survive these harsh years, he will go to Ohio State, he will go to the NFL, and he will make his dreams come true.
Oh, but then there's Macy who at this time is a band geek that was unaware that the most popular boy in school even knew she was alive. Turns out he really loves this girl and none of that stuff we just mentioned would be worth a damn to him if he got it without her by his side. But even though he is the most popular boy in school, Macy isn't all that crazy about him. Even when Scott violates all of the well known Time / Space Continuum rules by telling his once future wife all about the stuff they're gonna do and the kids they're gonna have and whatnot, he sounds more crazy than anything else.
We know it has to come down to that game we started this show with, and we know that it's going to come down the that last play one more time again. But if Scott throws the ball this time around instead of sprinting for the goal line... what will happen?
Look, if you were to corner me and say 'Christopher, this movie 'Touchback' is about as derivative as they come. 'Peggy Sue Got Married'? 'It's a Wonderful Life'? What source doesn't this movie liberally borrow from?" I couldn't argue with you. If you were to challenge me that 'Touchback' contains just about every sports movie cliché invented, and then some, I can't defend it. If you were to point out that Marc Blucas and Brian Presley are the oldest high school students to show up on film since Luke Perry and Jason Priestly did a fifteen year stint in high school back in those 90201 days... you got me. Then of course you'd eventually have to ask 'Then why did you like this movie?!?' and I'd answer quite simply, 'because I did'. So there.
I've said it before but sports movies are basically Romantic Comedies for men. Just like RomCom's are all the same, sports movies follow a fairly predictable story arc, and quite honestly just like you shouldn't mess with the RomCom, I don't think you should mess with the sports movie either . Who would want to watch a sports movie that doesn't come down to the last play, the last at bat, the final race? Huh? Then it wouldn't be a sports movie. Written and directed by Dan Handfield, this film was clearly made by someone with a deep rooted love of football, Ohio football in particular. As a man from Michigan, but not a Michigan Man, maybe this Ohio love didn't sit too well, but whaddayagonnado?
The middle-aged men playing high school students did a fine job illustrating their characters for us, the movie was filled lots of glorious inspiration speeches delivered by actors who know how to deliver inspirational speeches such as Kurt Russel who knows a thing or two about being in a sports movie, and Christine Lahti who knows a thing or two about being a movie mom.
Yes the movie has its flaws, most of which we've mentioned already, and when the dialog wasn't being inspirational it was a bit hokey at times, but the football filmed on the field looked good, despite the fact you probably don't need to call a timeout after a kickoff return and playaction on your own fifty with no time on the clock is a wasted motion, but Mr. Handfields movie 'Touchback' is paced pitch perfect, it respects the game, it honors the Sports Movie mythology and it was an awful lot of fun to sit through. And Barry Sanders made a cameo. Come on man.