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Touching Home

"Touching Home" emerges as a formulaic triumph-over-odds tale with too little distinguishing detail.

With: Ed Harris, Brad Dourif, Robert Forster, Logan Miller, Noah Miller, Ishiah Benben, Evan Jones, Lee Meriwether, Brandon Hanson.

Winning points for pluck, identical twins Logan and Noah Miller persuaded top thesping and tech personnel to climb aboard their directing-screenwriting-producing-acting debut. But the offscreen story of these unknowns getting their autobiographical drama to the screen proves more interesting and inspiring than the polished, earnest, rather routine movie itself. Despite the tale’s real-life basis and a solid Ed Harris as their fictive equivalents’ alcoholic dad, “Touching Home” emerges as a formulaic triumph-over-odds tale with too little distinguishing detail. Wholesome pic could connect with family auds, most likely in broadcast and DVD exposure.

Dedicated to their father, who died homeless, drunk and jailed in 2006, the Millers’ film begins with a childhood prologue. Central sibs are Little League stars in the not-so-tony side of Northern California’s rural West Marin, and pop Charlie Winston (Harris) is already too enslaved by his addictions to be a good father. (There’s no mention of what happened to their mother.)

Fifteen years or so later, the twins live in Arizona, where Lane (Logan Miller) is a Minor League pitcher and Clint (Noah Miller) is a community college student hoping to get signed himself. On the same day, however, Lane is cut from his team, and Clint loses his scholarship due to poor grades. Broke bros have no better option than to return home to work and save money for a spring-tryout return.

Home isn’t especially welcoming, apart from sunny, simpleminded Uncle Clyde (Brad Dourif). Granny Eleanor (Lee Meriwether, getting little to do after a promising entrance) grunts, “Rent’s $300, and I don’t want your father around” en route to her wake-up glass of boxed wine. Banished dad — now living in his truck — nonetheless can’t be avoided, since by day he still labors at the gravel pit alongside his returned sons. By night, Charlie drinks and gambles his way into the same old troubles.

Sensitive Lane gives dad the benefit of the doubt, even when mooched cash results in yet another bender. Clint wants nothing to do with the old man. Bitter over many such letdowns, he’s focused on the dream of playing pro ball, and doesn’t appreciate Lane’s efforts to repair the family.

Crises arise, but everything in “Touching Home” has a predictable feel. Character development stalls upon introduction, with later conflicts only confirming obvious personality traits. Major plot turns are so telegraphed that their impact depends on the viewer’s susceptibility to formulaic emotional cues.

On the plus side, the Millers don’t push the material’s potential maudlin excess. They’re pleasant enough company onscreen, with no diamond-action cutaways required — these boys can really play ball. Still, there’s little evidence their acting chops are ready for non-alter-ego roles. Nor does the pic’s blandly respectable p.o.v. suggest directorial talent applicable to less blatantly personal projects.

“Home” is a refreshingly clean-spirited movie given its themes, sporting nary a cuss word; even Clint’s relationship with new love interest Rachel (Ishiah Benben) doesn’t get much past hand-holding. But there should be more psychological and atmospheric bite to any portrait of such raw familial wounds.

Creators struck gold in persuading Harris to come aboard, though even he can’t summon the depth lacking in screenplay and direction. Ditto the always welcome Dourif and Robert Forster (as the twins’ fatherly ex-coach). Evan Jones and Brandon Hanson bring some comic relief as childhood pals-turned-resigned party-hearty gravel-pit drudges.

Ricardo Gale’s handsome widescreen lensing tops the pro tech/design package. Martin Davich’s score strikes a conventional note that underlines “Home’s” failure to turn a true story into something that feels like more than formula fiction.

Though lensed on 35mm, the pic was projected in HD at screening caught.

Touching Home

Production: A Winston Movie production. Produced by Logan Miller, Noah Miller. Executive producers, Brian Vail, Gordon Radley. Directed, written by Logan Miller, Noah Miller.

Crew: Camera (color, 35mm-to-HD, Panavision widescreen), Ricardo Jacques Gale; editor, Robert Dalva; music, Martin Davich; production designer, Roy Ree; art director, Thomas J. Power; costume designer, Inanna Bantu; sound (Dolby Digital), Chris Boyes, Mark Berger; supervising sound editor, Richard Hymns; assistant director, Constance Hoy; casting, Billy DaMota, Michelle Metzner. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival (Spotlight: Cinema by the Bay), April 29, 2008. Running time: 114 MIN.

With: With: Ed Harris, Brad Dourif, Robert Forster, Logan Miller, Noah Miller, Ishiah Benben, Evan Jones, Lee Meriwether, Brandon Hanson.

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