Triumph of the will, pursuit of the American dream, blah, blah, blah... Perhaps key ingredients for an Oscar-winning epic, but in the case of racehorse drama Seabiscuit, what should lift your spirit only threatens to eject your lunch.
Director Gary Ross' adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling book tells the true story of a bow-legged racehorse who rides to glory, championing the hopes of a nation mired deep in The Great Depression. That symbolism also translates for The Biscuit's half-blind jockey, Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), abandoned by his parents as a boy. The same goes for owner Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), picking up the pieces after the death of his child and broken marriage. And horse trainer/high plains drifter Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), trying to rediscover his sense of purpose.
"THE PACE OF A PACK MULE"
But their faith in Seabiscuit (and each other) is tested when the little colt is pitted against America's top racehorse, War Admiral. Of course, there's no twist in this horse's tale. To compound the banality, Ross lays on too much back story - giving this film the pace of a pack mule trying to escape a boggy marshland.
Maguire, Bridges, and Cooper lend class, but their talents are wasted. In one typically clumsy (and superfluous) scene, Maguire dumps a sack of childhood books into a river as his parents' rejection echoes in voiceover. It's like something out of a daytime soap, and all Maguire can do is offer that habitual faraway gaze.
Blessed comic relief comes in the form of William H Macy as radio pundit Tick Tock McGlaughlin. His race commentary offers such sparkling insights as: "One comeback I can take, but two? Who's next? Lazarus?" Unfortunately it's one of few high points. In trying to preserve all the components of Hillenbrand's book, Ross veers fatally off course. The end result is as flatulent as an old nag, and stinks almost as bad.