You will be redirected back to your article in seconds


Writer-director Don Handfield fails to score with "Touchback," a lightweight and overlong feel-good drama that plays like a mashup of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Friday Night Lights."

With: Brian Presley, Melanie Lynskey, Marc Blucas, Kurt Russell, Christine Lahti, Sarah Wright.

Writer-director Don Handfield fails to score with “Touchback,” a lightweight and overlong feel-good drama that plays like a mashup of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Friday Night Lights.” Indeed, this handsomely produced but ponderously uplifting trifle should be flagged for excessive schmaltz and offensive illogic. Some viewers, particularly football fans, may be intrigued by the plot, which pivots on the miraculous second chance given to a former high-school quarterback 20 years after a knee injury shattered his dreams of gridiron glory. Even so, the pic isn’t likely to fill many theatrical stadiums before it’s sidelined to homevid.


Top-billed Brian Presley plays Scott Murphy, a small-town farmer struggling to support his wife, Macy (Melanie Lynskey) and their two young daughters. Back in 1991, he was poised to leave the tiny community of Coldwater, Ohio, with dreams of achieving fame as a collegiate and NFL quarterback, until he sustained a career-ending injury during the final seconds of a high-school championship game.

Two decades and several more crushing disappointments later, Scott is driven to despair by the possibility of losing his farm to bank foreclosure. But when he attempts suicide, he awakens to find he has become … well, judging from his appearance, the world’s oldest high-school student.

Scott has been inexplicably blasted back to the past — not unlike the protagonists of “Mr. Destiny,” “Peggy Sue Got Married” and countless other time-tripping fantasies — and afforded the opportunity to relive the week leading up to the fateful high-school championship game.

Naturally, he doesn’t want to suffer the consequences of a not-so-instant replay. But even as he contemplates drastic action to alter his destiny, he finds himself gravitating away from his va-va-voom high-school flame (Sarah Wright) and toward the less sexy but more appealing Macy.

Unfortunately, the 1991 version of Macy is a semi-nerdy band member who doesn’t care much for macho jocks like Scott. Even more unfortunately, in the world according to “Touchback,” changing your destiny for the better in one area means, for reasons never fully explained or plausibly dramatized, you can’t hold on to anything (or anyone) you treasured in the life you were supposed to live.

“Touchback” is not, strictly speaking, a faith-based pic; none of the characters ever refers to God, faith or the possibility of divine intervention. But there’s an oppressively preachy quality to the many scenes in which Scott is criticized for his failure to enjoy the simple joys of small-town life. The football coach played by Kurt Russell (who gives the pic much more than it ever gives him) bluntly says at one point, “This little town really is special,” for the benefit of anyone who misses the dozen or so other homilies in the dialogue.

In short, “Touchback” is yet another example of cinema as inspirational comfort food, part of a vast subgenre of pics that encourage auds to be happy with their lives, disappointments and all. The only significantly distinguishing aspect of this particular scenario is that it teases us with the possibility that Scott will deliberately choose to place himself in harm’s way so he won’t risk losing someone who probably could have been wooed and won some other way.

The final scenes crib shamelessly from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which only serves to enhance the pic’s overall sense of been-there-seen-that predictability. In fact, the affecting sincerity of Christine Lahti’s performance as Scott’s mother is the only thing in the film that could be described as in any way unexpected, though even she gets to dispense some of the platitudes that make up the largest portion of the pic’s playbook.

Popular on Variety


Production: An Anchor Bay Films release of a Freedom Films production. Produced by Brian Presley, Kevin Matusow, Carissa Buffel. Executive producers, George Furla, Randall Emmett, Shannon Gardner, Derek Beumer, Michael Corso, Anthony Gudas. Directed, written by Don Handfield.

Crew: Camera (color), David Morrison; editor, Ryan Eaton; music, William Ross; music supervisor, Tricia Holloway; production designer, Roshelle Berliner; art director, Joshua Stricklin; costume designer, Jan Johnston; sound (Dolby Digital), Matthew Mulder; assistant director, Brian O'Sullivan; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee. Reviewed at AMC Studio 30, Houston, April 15, 2012. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 120 MIN.

With: With: Brian Presley, Melanie Lynskey, Marc Blucas, Kurt Russell, Christine Lahti, Sarah Wright.

More Film

  • Taika Waititi Natalie Portman SDCC 2019

    Natalie Portman Weighs in on 'Thor: Love and Thunder's' Possible Breast Cancer Storyline

    Natalie Portman doesn’t know if “Thor: Love and Thunder” will include a breast cancer storyline for her character Jane Foster, but she’s definitely intrigued by the possibility. “It’s just very rare that these kinds of big entertainment films look at more serious, real-life issues,” she told Variety at L.A. Dance Project’s 8th annual fundraising gala [...]

  • Luxbox Closes Sales on Venice Film

    Luxbox Closes Sales on Venice Film 'Sole' to U.S., France (EXCLUSIVE)

    Fiorella Moretti and Hedi Zardi’s Paris-based sales agency Luxbox has closed several territory deals on Carlos Sironi’s “Sole,” which screened in Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti section and Toronto Film Festival’s Discovery sidebar. The film just won the audience award at Pingyao Intl. Film Festival in China and a Special Jury Mention for the lead actors [...]

  • Puerto Rican singer Ozuna poses during

    Ozuna Joins Vin Diesel in 'Fast & Furious 9'

    Ozuna, one of Latin music’s fastest-rising stars, has signed with UTA for representation. And to kick off the relationship, the agency has landed him a role in “Fast & Furious 9.” He is also in talks to join the film’s soundtrack. Justin Lin, who directed “Fast & Furious 6,” returns to direct the ninth installment [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Writers Guild Boosting Efforts in Project Development Amid Agency Standoff

    The Writers Guild of America, locked in a six-month standoff with major talent agencies, has announced that it’s boosting efforts at gathering TV, streaming and film project development data to help members find new employment opportunities. The WGA made the disclosure in a message to members on Monday. The guild directed its 15,000 members to fire [...]

  • Fernando Meirelles The Two Popes

    AFI Fest Adds 'The Two Popes,' 'Aeronauts,' Alan Pakula Tribute

    The American Film Institute has added “The Two Popes” and “The Aeronauts” as galas during the upcoming AFI Fest along with a tribute to the late director Alan Pakula. AFI had previously announced that the romantic drama “Queen & Slim” would launch the 33rd annual festival on Nov. 14 and close with the world premiere [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Recalls Husband Blake Edwards' Battle With Depression

    The line to see Julie Andrews at the 92nd Street Y wrapped around the square of a sprawling New York City block. Seventy years since the start of her career, 60 since she asked “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” as Lerner and Loewe’s first Eliza and 50 since she sang “The Sound of Music” before the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content