No matter the setting or circumstances, the solution to every dilemma found in Christian Evangelical films is getting closer to God. That certainly holds true with regards to “Overcomer,” the latest bit of bigscreen proselytizing by writer-director-star Alex Kendrick (“War Room,” “Courageous”). The story of a high school basketball coach who’s forced to take over a cross-country program with only one runner, it’s a drama that affects sensitivity while nonetheless operating as a blunt instrument. Its one-note sermonizing should help it appeal to its target audience, but those not already in the fold will likely be left unmoved.
When economic hard times hit his small-town community, compelling many of his star athletes to relocate, coach John Harrison (Kendrick) watches his expectations for a winning basketball season go down the drain. To add insult to injury, he’s ordered by Principal Brooks (Priscilla Shirer) to take over the cross-country squad — an unwanted assignment made more difficult by the fact that only asthmatic new student Hannah (Aryn Wright-Thomson) wants to compete. Miserable about his situation (evident from him smashing bricks in anger, and throwing his basketball schedule in the trash), John just can’t see beyond himself, until he visits a hospital with his pastor and accidentally stumbles into the room of Thomas Hill (Cameron Arnett), a man who’s lost his sight due to severe diabetes.
Thomas, it turns out, is a former cross-country star, although the real surprise is that he’s also Hannah’s father, having abandoned her during his former shameful life of drugs and degradation. Now, however, Thomas has found his true vision thanks to God (a creaky “irony” he literally verbalizes), and he quickly convinces John to get right with the Almighty. In return, John decides — following prayer with his wife Amy (Shari Rigby) — to introduce Hannah to her dad. That John and Amy are doing this behind the back of Hannah’s disapproving grandmother Barbara (Denise Armstrong) is of little consequence, since “Overcomer” makes clear that John is driven by righteous faith in the Lord and, just as importantly, by his belief in the sanctity of relationships between children and dads — including, of course, the Father himself.
After an opening half-hour of relatively subdued action illuminated by sunlight streaming through windows, and scored to delicate piano and swelling strings, “Overcomer” — headed down a one-way track toward athletic victory via godliness — stops beating around the bush and begins preaching at a near-nonstop pace. This process reaches its apex during a sit-down between Hannah and Principal Shirer in which the latter overtly expounds on God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice, and then leads Hannah in prayer, before assigning a homework assignment from the first two chapters of Ephesians.
Such in-your-face evangelizing continues unabated through a third act that features three consecutive scenes of characters asking God for guidance — a narrative tactic that demolishes any trace of subtlety, and underscores that the film is less interested in persuasion than in simply talking at its viewers.
Bob Scott’s cinematography is as blandly bright and unadventurous as the movie’s performances are functional. Much of that is due to the clunkiness of Kendrick’s script (penned with brother Stephen), which drowns every moment in exposition and male tears. Still, there’s no escaping the corniness of the film’s turns, led by Kendrick as a guy who laughs and cries (and cries, and cries) with robotic earnestness. Laced with white-savior undertones this vaguely “The Blind Side”-esque sports drama doesn’t bother investigating (if it recognizes them at all), “Overcomer” offers nothing in the way of nuance — even its title is awkward — and, also, no respite from its religious propagandizing.