Corny theatrics take the air out of 'Gracie'


Published: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Gracie" strives to be "G.I. Jane" in shin guards, but it ends up as "She's the Man" without the comedy.

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Carly Schroeder in "Gracie."

Picturehouse

Despite a valiant effort by 16-year-old star Carly Schroeder, the stiff melodrama about a high school girl, Gracie, struggling to play with the guys in 1970s New Jersey fails to score. Every note is amplified and exaggerated to extract maximum audience sympathy, but the reaction it inspires tends to be wincing rather than cheering.

Gracie meets ludicrous opposition at every juncture of her quest to take the field in place of her older brother, who died in a car crash. Her macho dad (Dermot Mulroney) won't even let her practice in the backyard at first, and her meek, silent mother (Elisabeth Shue) refuses to speak up for her. The evil coach (John Doman) thinks a woman's place is in the kitchen, not the goal box, and won't even let the young lady try out unless the school board forces his hand. Gracie's best friend, Jena (Julia Garro), tells her that she won't hang out with her anymore if Gracie tries to play soccer because female athletes are seen as lesbians.

Even Gracie's little brothers jeer at her at the breakfast table.

But she forges through grit, determination and a mean striking foot - early in the film she hustles people out of money by kicking a soda container off a car with a soccer ball. Or at least she forges once she's given up on her dream and Dad catches Gracie about to have sex with a college guy in the back of the car she stole for a joyride.

Shocked, Dad replaces grand theft auto and promiscuity in Gracie's life with soccer. He pens an appeal to the school board and trains her rigorously in the tried-and-true Mr. Miyagi methods - teaching skills via bizarre tasks, such as balancing an egg atop her foot.

As tough as the training is for Gracie to endure, the audience has it even tougher, tapping their toes in boredom until Gracie gets her inevitable chance to strut her stuff on the field.

The story is based on the experiences of Shue, who grew up playing on boys teams. The soccer scenes, however, have little to do with reality. Shue's husband, director Davis Guggenheim, films the sport as if it's as brutal as the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Gracie is knocked around mercilessly on the field, beaten and bloodied while coaches and refs stand by idly. She's head-butted, driven into the ground with a forearm shiver, sweep-kicked with ninja-like ferocity and elbowed in the chest.

Van Damme had it easier in "Bloodsport."

You know the thing that happens when you think back to the past and remember things a little differently from the way they actually were? Yeah, that's probably going on with Shue here. Either that or her husband determined ticky-tack soccer fouls don't make for devastating tension.

"Gracie" could have been better if it were more low-key and focused on the mental intimidation side of her struggle. The corny theatrics only take the air out of the ball.

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