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‘Gracie’ follows familiar sports movie formula

Breezy story of a girl on an all-boys soccer team breaks no new ground
/ Source: The Associated Press

If you competed in high school athletics, you might be able to overlook the fact that “Gracie” is just another formulaic, if well-intentioned, sports movie.

That it’s based on true events, both devastating and uplifting, theoretically should give it more heft. So should the fact that it was directed by Davis Guggenheim, an Oscar winner this year for the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

But watching Al Gore talk about global warming again sounds a whole lot more engrossing right about now. Not that the film is boring — it breezes through life-altering developments superficially and with dizzying speed.

Inspired by the childhood of his wife, Elisabeth Shue, and her family, Guggenheim tells the story of teenage Gracie (Carly Schroeder), who wants to play on the varsity boys soccer team, unheard of in suburban 1978 New Jersey. She’s driven toward this goal after her older brother, Johnny (Jesse Lee Soffer), dies in a car accident. Johnny was her protector, biggest supporter — and star of the soccer team.

(In real life, Shue’s older brother, William, died in an accident when she was 24. Before that, as a girl, Shue was the only girl on an all-boys soccer team.)

No one believes in Gracie — not her dad (Dermot Mulroney), who obsessively runs her brothers through drills in the backyard but excludes her, or her mom (Shue herself), who isn’t into sports at all. The other girls think she’s weird for being such a tomboy and wonder whether she’s a lesbian.

You can probably guess what happens.

This is a feel-good, come-from-behind, against-all-odds kind of movie from writers Karen Janszen and Lisa Marie Peterson, which doesn’t make it terribly compelling. But it does offer a message that all girls should hear: “You can do anything,” Johnny’s mantra for his younger sister. And in her first leading role, Schroeder has a likable, natural presence. (Previously she appeared on the soaps “General Hospital” and “Port Charles.”)

But then she’s forced to undergo the obligatory training montage, in which Gracie wakes up early, runs up and down hills and grunts and sweats her way through sit-ups and chin-ups. There are the bullies who don’t want her joining in their reindeer games, led by the mulleted Kyle (Christopher Shand), who has the added incentive of feeling jilted by her.

In time — in no time at all, actually — Gracie will change everyone’s minds. Dad comes around all of a sudden and decides to devote all his time to turning her into a star athlete. He even helps her petition the school to change its rules and allow a girl to try out for a boys’ team. (Shue’s brother Andrew, formerly of “Melrose Place” and the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team, plays one of the coaches.)

And those classmates who once scoffed at her? They turn into her biggest cheerleaders.

If this sounds familiar, you may be remembering “The Karate Kid” — the movie that made Shue a star back in 1984.