‘McFarland’ sprints its way to mediocrity

Kevin Costner has always played a niche role well. He failed in most serious work like “Waterworld” and “Thirteen Days, but always found success as an athlete in “Field of Dreams,” and “Bull Durham.”

Nowadays, Costner has found his niche role once again as a wise old man. He has done this so well, his performances have stood out and even elevated movies like “Man of Steel,” and “Draft Day.”

“McFarland, USA” (Rated PG; 129 min) directed by Niki Caro is a film barely lifted past mediocrity by Costner’s performance and other small victories.


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Jim White, played by Costner, is an amazing high school football coach running out of chances because of his extreme temper. After an altercation with a player, White and his family are left with one last option: the town of McFarland.

McFarland is a poor Hispanic town with an awful football team. After realizing the kids are good at running, White creates a cross country team for a shot at redemption. He begins to bond with the kids and the town becomes his unlikeliest of homes.

Estimating this movie’s success before its release was difficult because of its generic trailer, and because very few cross country movies are made.

Though the sport is hard to make cinematically exciting, “McFarland” challenges the expectations by showing the last few seconds of the races intercut with a grandiose score fit for a top-level high school sports movie.

Caution: unpopular opinion approaching. “Remember the Titans” is not as good as we all remember it to be. The film addressed a lot of great issues heavy handedly, but also suffered from cookie-cutter high school sport movie clichés. Many Disney sport films are guilty of this and “McFarland, USA” does not surpass this stereotype.

It is a by-the-book sports movie that lives and dies by the overused motifs littered in this genre.


A kid from an unstable home uses sports as his only outlet. A reluctant, hard-nosed coach softens after falling in love with his team. The underdogs are winning. Even when the movie tries to take these clichés to an interesting level, it is denied viciously by the sadistic god of unoriginality.

Solely highlighting Costner’s performance would be unfortunate. His role, which any older rough-looking gentlemen could play, had the most depth. His pathos is always clear, where other actors have to work and create their own dynamics.

A good example of this is Carlos Pratts, who plays Thomas Valles, the main protagonist of the teens. His father is slightly abusive and is rarely around, leaving Valles very depressed. In one of the best scenes of the movie, he even contemplates suicide.

Neither of these characters legitimately develop. His father comes around at end for seemingly no reason and the suggested suicide attempt is not mentioned. Yet, the sadness is clear. Pratts brings heart and pain to this character bringing gut-wrenching reactions to the joyous scenes in the movie.

Do not run to the theaters for “McFarland, USA” Like “Draft Day” and “Million Dollar Arm,” which avoided being bad, but both fail to evoke any clear emotions, viewers will find this film easy enough to sit through. Despite it being milk toast and bland.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5