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Movie review: Underdog sports drama 'The Mighty Macs'

The story of the 1972 Immaculata College women's basketball team rise to the national championship is told in by-the numbers fashion.

October 21, 2011|By Gary Goldstein, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Meghan Sabia, left, Taylor Steel, Marley Shelton and Carla Gugino are seen in "The Mighty Macs," about a 1972 women's college basketball championship.
Meghan Sabia, left, Taylor Steel, Marley Shelton and Carla Gugino are seen… (Matt Rourke / Associated…)

There's seemingly no end to the true-life, underdog sports dramas available for a cinematic close-up. Unfortunately, the latest entry, "The Mighty Macs," is given such old-fashioned, kid-gloves treatment that its potential warmth and excitement caves under the weight of writer-producer-director Tim Chambers' good intentions.

Based on the story of suburban Philadelphia's Immaculata College women's basketball team, which went from virtual obscurity to winning the sport's first-ever national women's collegiate championships in 1972 under progressive new coach — and ex-hoopster — Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino), the film opts for by-the-numbers plotting and inspirational speeches over serious character development and emotional depth.

Given its Catholic school setting, Chambers doesn't overplay the "higher power" of it all, yet does keep things conspicuously cloistered from the era's social, racial and political strife. Women's lib is touched on, but hardly in bold strokes.

Gugino brings requisite resolve to her portrayal of the driven, "there's no 'I' in team" Cathy, but is limited by her role's narrowly written range. Ellen Burstyn is wonderfully dry as Immaculata's beleaguered Mother Superior, though her shift from sourpuss to beaming booster feels too abrupt.

As a questioning young nun who becomes Cathy's assistant coach, Marley Shelton adds charm, but David Boreanaz can only do so much with the thankless part of Cathy's conflicted, NBA-referee husband.

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