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Movie review: The Mighty Macs

Underdog-themed women's hoops flick holds lots of nostalgia for locals, but breaks little new ground

The Mighty Macs is an underdog sports story set in the Philadelphia area in the 1970s, but don't confuse it with Rocky or Invincible. While the film tells an inspirational true-life story and the local angle may be of note, the film doesn't do a whole lot to distinguish itself from just about every sports movie ever made. 

Set in 1971, the film tells the story of the womens' basketball team at Chester County's then-all-female Immaculata College, which came from nowhere to win the first-ever womens' national championship, despite a first-time coach, unheralded players and a miniscule budget. 

The coach is Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino) and along with her sidekick (assistant coach/nun Marley Shelton), she uses unconventional methods and inspirational speeches to motivate her team. 

If this sounds familiar, it's because The Mighty Macs follows the template of most underdog sports movies just about to the letter. The filmmakers may as well have taken the screenplay of Hoosiers and just made a few edits, changing the decade from the '50s to the '70s and the male characters into women. 

Cathy's husband, longtime NBA ref Ed Rush (played by Bones star and local product David Boreanaz), even fills the usual role of the coach's wife, who's skeptical and hostile at first before coming around at the end, as is the hardass principal/boss, in the guise of a mother superior (Ellen Burstyn).

Directed by Tim Chambers, with production values that indicate a shoestring budget in the tradition of the Immaculata team itself, the story hits every sports movie beat: the new coach, the hopeless early games, the team-gelling, the big speech, the big game at the end, etc. While it hits all these competently, one thing the film is completely missing is surprises. 

Gugino is fine in a rare starring role, while Shelton gives a subtly good performance; she's someone who deserves to work a lot more than she does. But none of the players especially distinguish themselves. 

There's also an icky little scene in which the characters line up for the team picture and the older male photographer asks a not-well-dressed, "ugly" team member to stand in the back. 

Rather than walk out, slap the guy in face, or in any other way stand up for their teammate, the women take her in the back and ... give her a makeover. 

We're supposed to cheer for this, but I was sort of repulsed. 

Philly sports enthusiasts, even if they don't know this particular story, will likely find much to enjoy. None other than WIP host Anthony Gargano gets a "story by" credit, while Joe Conklin plays an announcer and various other local sports luminaries get cameos. Immaculata plays West Chester State in the final, indicating that every competitive womens' basketball team of the era was located within miles of Philly. Another local treat for viewers is Norristown local and Times Herald staffer Cheryl Kehoe Rodgers playing a referee in the Macs' championship game.

Just last month, transcended the sports movie formula by approaching it in such a counterintuitive way, while the Friday Night Lights TV series spent five years expanding upon the usual cliches. The Mighty Macs, while a great story, plays its safe, and that's its undoing.

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The Silver Screen Rating: 2.5 star (out of 5)

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Roll Credits: The Mighty Macs

 

Directed by: Tim Chambers

Starring: Carla Gugino, Ellen Burstyn, Marley Shelton, David Boreanez.

Rated: G

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