Like a country tune filled with the usual cliches, Hallmark Channel's "Every Second Counts" has everything but the cheating dog driving away in a stolen pickup truck -- and yet it still comes off as a heartfelt, entertaining family movie.

Like a country tune filled with the usual cliches, Hallmark Channel’s “Every Second Counts” has everything but the cheating dog driving away in a stolen pickup truck — and yet it still comes off as a heartfelt, entertaining family movie. In fact, it’s downright refreshing to see a film that isn’t some Technicolor teen fantasy. “Every Second Counts” has neither the promotional machine of Disney nor the cool factor of Nickelodeon, but as far as family dramas go, this is a summer gem.

Director John Bradshaw maximizes Vancouver vistas (standing in here for Silverdale, Wash.) to set the mood for this modern-day Western teen story. Brook Preston (“Kyle XY’s” Magda Apanowicz) is a champion in the rodeo sport of penning whose dedication has made her a virtual stranger to everyone at her high school.

Trained by her dad Joe (Stephen Collins), a former champion himself, Brooke has stifled all of the typical teen tendencies along with her dream of becoming a veterinarian in order to work the rodeo circuit. Her love and skill for the sport is evident, but it soon becomes clear that Brooke rides to earn money to help support her family during hard times.

When Joe loses his job, it falls on Brooke to carry on the rodeo legacy and get the family out of debt. As the pressure mounts, Brooke starts to give up on her dream of a college scholarship.

 Despite the melodramatic country-song setup, the pic is rather topical in its tackling of unemployment, financial woes and the pressures of finding ways to pay for college. Teen issues like sex and drugs may make for flashier plot points, but the family drama here is just as real.

As Brooke, Apanowicz is a marvel — a lovely, natural actress whose simmering stress never boils over so much as it eats away at her. Collins also puts in a good perf; his grubby country charm works here as the defeated Joe, scrambling to maintain his pride and his family’s finances. Joe’s not a bad guy, but he makes some really bad decisions in an effort to save his daughter from a similar fate. The cast is nicely rounded out by Barbara Williams as Brooke’s mother and Brett Dier as Caden, Brooke’s newfound love interest.

Paul Mitchnick’s camerawork is stunning, deftly alternating between sweeping scenery shots and fast-paced horse-riding action sequences. Paired with original music by Stacey Hersh, it aptly sets the mood for the film.

Every Second Counts

Hallmark, Sat. July 12, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed on location in Vancouver by Chesler/Perlmutter Production in association with Canwest Media. Executive producers, Lewis B. Chesler, David M. Perlmutter, Paulina Mielech; producers, Elizabeth Sanchez, Robert Vaughn; director, John Bradshaw; writers, Arthur Martin Jr., Barbara Kymlicka, Kevin Commins, Robert Vaughn.

Crew

Camera, Paul Mitchnick; editor, Marvin Lawrence; music, Stacey Hersh; casting, Susan Brouse, Lynne Carrow. RUNNING TIME: 120 MIN.

Cast

Joe Preston - Stephen Collins Helen Preston - Barbara Williams Brooke Preston - Magda Apanowicz Caden - Brett Dier Dutch - Eric Keenleyside
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