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One of the more likable entries in the post-Rocky sports-film boom, a fact-based story about a little nowhere on the Indiana map named Hickory whose high-school basketball team got all the way to the state championship game in 1952. Much of that likableness is due to the restraints of temperament enforced by the place and period, truthfully rendered. All the team members look and sound right, from military crewcuts to Midwest twangs, with highest honors going to Steve Hollar, an early disciplinary problem, and David Neidorf, with his crimson sense of shame over his home life. Gene Hackman, as the monarchical new coach (in a town accustomed to democracy and on a team accustomed to anarchy), who comes from out of state with a dark past and in search of one last chance, is no less fine, only more familiar: he had mastered the role of coach long ago (Downhill Racer, 1969) during the pre-Rocky evils-of-competition phase of American films. The attention paid to period accuracy, however, suffers severe lapses whenever we get onto the gym floor. Everybody on this hicksville basketball team, and everybody on every hicksville team they play against, is an ahead-of-his-time jump-shooter; no one attempts a set shot, either one-handed or two-; there is no more than one hook shot; and the only player who shoots the underhanded scoop from the foul line is the runty bench-warmer who doesn't really belong in the game. The fear must have been that if the basketball games were played the way they actually were in the early Fifties, the characters would run the risk of comicality and would forfeit audience sympathy in the process -- and sympathy, in fact feverish partisanship, is what this sort of movie is all about. In that regard, it does deliver the goods at its several climaxes on the court, and Jerry Goldsmith's High Romantic symphonic score will help win over any scoffers. With Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper; written by Angelo Pizzo; directed by David Anspaugh. (1986) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated PG | 1 hour, 54 minutes


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