The softness that plagues so many sports movies is in evidence yet again in the soporific “The 5th Quarter,” a true-story weepie that leaves even the reliable Andie MacDowell flailing. Dramatizing the tragic death of young athlete Luke Abbate and how it inspired his older brother, Jon, and his Wake Forest, N.C., football squad, the film is poorly written and directed at the most basic levels, spelling quick B.O. ejection.
Like a kickoff out-of-bounds, the film seems off from its opening minutes, cross-cutting awkwardly among high schooler Luke (Stefan Guy) at team practice; his mom, Maryanne (MacDowell), tending to everyday tasks; his dad, Steven (Aidan Quinn), delivering Luke his uniform; his older brother, Jon (Ryan Merriman), working out; and a woman (Anessa Ramsey) at a park whose identity is revealed only in the final scene. The needlessly fussy montage climaxes with Luke getting into the passenger seat of a pal’s car before a nasty crash.
The film’s middle stretch is one long melodrama, as Luke’s prolonged demise prompts the family to question whether his vital organs should be donated. When Luke dies, and his heart reportedly finds a recipient. Quinn is given free rein to overact, particularly during Luke’s funeral, so it’s a bit of a relief that the relatively subtle Merriman dominates much of the rest of the film, as Jon takes on the burden of honoring Luke’s memory on the gridiron.
The mechanics of football appear beyond writer-director-producer Rick Bieber’s ability to capture onscreen, as the film cuts haplessly between newly shot material and video footage of actual Wake Forest games during a miracle season in 2006. As phony as the sports action feels, nothing is odder here than the fact that the parents’ roles are virtually forgotten for stretches at a time, until Mom’s considerable emotional crisis is finally addressed in a last-minute effort — call it a Hail Maryanne.
The actors work hard, but the hackneyed material defeats their best efforts. Among the subpar production contributions, the soundtrack (with Bieber’s credited music supervision) stands out for its vexing habit of inserting a new song cue seemingly every other minute.