“Touchback” is one of those sports movies that tries hard, but you wish it worked better. Scott Murphy (Brian Presley) is a Ohio dirt farmer in an age where the guy with the family farm of soybeans just isn’t going to make a living at it. He’s already maxed out at the bank, and they won’t loan him any more money. He has a lovely wife, Macy (Melanie Lynskey) who also loves the farm life, and two beautiful daughters who come running to see him crying “Daddy!” every time he walks in the door. But Scott Murphy is not just miserable because the combine broke and the rains are coming and the beans got an early frost and the foreclosure papers are already filed. He still can’t get over the State championship high school football game, where he was the highly-touted quarterback prospect, already signed with Ohio State , who blew out his knee on the last game-winning play, and there went his dreams. He’s spent the last 20 years wishing that he had that game to do over, and obsessing so much about what might have been that he can’t seem to bring himself to be happy with the present. And so, on the eve of the big 20th reunion of that magical state championship season, he decides to end it. Just plug up the exhaust in the ol’ pickup in the field overlooking the football stadium, and go to sleep, and all the regrets will be over.
Except that something happens in that twilight stupor---a kind of wishful return to the glory days, the week of the big game during his senior year in high school, when he was going out with the pretty cheerleader (Sarah Wright), and his mother (Christine Lahti) was still around, and Macy, well, Macy was just a nerd in the band who he didn’t have time for, but knowing how they later get together, he tries now to be overly friendly to her, which she finds somewhat creepy.
Actually, the whole scenario is somewhat creepy. Obviously, you have to make a decision here, with the casting, whether you’re going to make these characters believable as thirty-somethings or believable as high schoolers, but you can’t really do both. Though Director Dan Handfield gamely tries to have it both ways; it just doesn’t work. Brian Presley (who’s actually 34), despite his chiseled features, cannot pass for a high school senior. Even in his dreams. Now they can put lots of makeup on the Coach (Kurt Russell) and make him look like an adult who just aged. Kurt Russell has made 91 films and he can actually look authentic either way. But casting middle-aged adults as teenagers just isn’t convincing.
The morale to the story is clear: you can’t go back to your past and make things any different, anyway, so you might as well just accept it and move on. Well, that’s probably good advice for anyone covered up with regret over some decision made or not made as a youth. But you don’t need a whole awkward-looking movie to make that point.
Of course, most sermons only serve to remind us of what we already know. But this one seems particularly preachy.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas