The phrase, “incredible true story” has been overused for decades now and audiences aren’t too surprised when a trailer’s story pitch ends up to be fleeting. Adjectives like incredible should be used sparingly because if everything’s incredible, then nothing is. Incredible is not meant to be used often.
The story of Jesse Owens? Now, that’s an incredible one. An African-American living in a time of segregation and blatant racism who against all odds changed the world. An African-American who said all that needed to be said by his actions and pure athleticism. That’s a story worth telling and a story worth listening to. Jesse Owens was dealt a bad hand in life, but was given a gift that no one on the planet could match. He was hated for the color of his skin but left those who doubted his talent in the dust, literally. It’s Jesse Owens, a man hated by many of his countrymen who went to Nazi Germany and ruined the Third Reich’s vision of a German-dominated Olympic Games. Whether he meant to or not, Owens’ dominance of the Olympics was the perfect statement to rebuke the Nazi’s propaganda and a huge win for America.
Yet, his story isn’t here. Race, like all of the other Hollywood biopics of late, struggles to tell a story that should be able to write itself. There are quite a few inherent themes in Owens’ story and yet rather than hit them on the head with a sledgehammer and ram the points home, director Stephen Hopkins gives it a little tip-tap like he’s an elf in Santa’s workshop putting a model train together, afraid that if he hits it too hard it’ll break. Racism is not a tip-tap issue. It’s not an issue you can wrap up in blankets and put to bed like a young child. No, racism, especially during Owens’ time, was a never-ending minefield that went on for miles and miles and Owens had to keep his legs high like he did on the track to avoid all the hurdles and landmines and boobie traps that tried to stop him.
Instead of that story, Race is a story that moves the camera to one topic for a little bit, hovers over it for a minute portion of screen time and then drifts to the next headline without any afterthought for what has just transpired.
“Wait a second here? The NAACP asked Owens not to compete? Man, I wonder what was going through Owens’ head here. He talks to his trainer and his wife, no significant dialogue and oh, he’s on the boat to the Olympics. Well, I’m happy that was resolved so quickly.”
Moments like these should frustrate any moviegoer and especially in January and February when the flaws are as easy to point out as a third grader’s mistakes in his addition, except that third grader was given the steering wheel to a $5 million biopic about one of the greatest athletes to ever live.
What should frustrate audiences more than anything though is the disservice it does to Owens. Once again, Hollywood let a really great story fall to the wayside and not only that, but they released it in February, which believe it or not, demonstrates how much they really cared about this project.
Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.
80-89 It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cable Guy, The Cabin in the Woods, Tears of the Sun, Edge of Tomorrow, The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
60-69 It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Beasts of No Nation, Terminator: Genisys, Black Sheep)
40-49 This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (War, The Ridiculous 6, The Lost Boys, Zombeavers, Crank)
30-39 Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Centurion, Planet of the Apes, Stonados, Redemption, Pride and Prejudice)
0-19 Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie Stoner, The Forbidden Dimensions, Cyborg, Outcast, Sabotage)
My score for Race: 54.
There’s some admirable efforts here from the acting department but at curtain call, Race is a stagnant piece that serves as the polar opposite of Owens. With no restrictions or racism in its way, it still couldn’t get its feet off the ground.