The best that can be said about the high school sports drama 4 Minute Mile is that it’s perfectly competent in terms of tone and construction even at its most boring. This tale of a brooding and troubled track star being coached to potential greatness by a limping, brooding, alcoholic former coach feels like every other film made on similar subjects since The Karate Kid. The only real difference is that this production has Richard Jenkins as the fatherly coach, and his presence can’t help but elevate the standard material.
Drew Jacobs (Kelly Blatz) has always been a fast runner, but that’s just a thinly veiled metaphor for running away from his problems. His dad died of a drug overdose when he was a kid. He’s frustrated with his performance on the school’s track team so he walks away from his one chance at a scholarship. His older brother Wes (Cam Gigandet) has become a drug dealer that’s into some bad men for a lot of cash and he forces Drew into doing runs for him. His mother (Kim Basinger) is utterly useless. The only person who sees potential in the almost chronically depressed Drew is the also chronically depressed Coleman (Jenkins), a washout trainer who puts the young man through specialized and quirky training exercises and says he should run the mile instead of the 400 metres. The race might be Drew’s one shot at college and a ticket out of town, and Coleman’s last shot at redemption.
If you haven’t at least heard this story before, chances are you’ve never seen a movie before. There isn’t really a single distinguishable or original idea or thought in Quebec native Charles-Olivier Michaud’s direction or the script from Jeff Van Wie (The Last Song) and first time screenwriter Josh Campbell. Everything falls into place far too perfectly. Everyone aside from Jenkins and Rhys Coiro (as the supplier who wants his money from Wes) plays their roles to the bare minimum, simply reading everything off the page just as it was written and as stereotypically as possible. It’s hard to tell if Blatz’s performance is bad or if he’s just afraid to think outside the box. Gigandet attempts to infuse some kind of energy into his asshole character, but he can’t make the material do anything without stretching the tone of the film into something that might come close to an actual human emotion. Basinger and talented younger actress Analeigh Tipton (as Drew’s potential girlfriend) have so little to do they might as well be window dressing.
Dialogue here includes such clichéd chestnuts as “You can’t run with a temper,” “Running’s not just physical. It’s in your head,” and “You got something deep in there. You gotta beat it.” Only Jenkins can deliver any of these with a real degree of conviction. A mid-film speech where he begs his young charge to never become the same kind of broken man he has become is exceptionally delivered until you think about what’s actually being said and you realize there’s nothing special about it. Even the character is designed as stereotypically as possible with an artfully tattered and fading baseball cap and a penchant for track jackets.
4 Minute Mile isn’t so much awful as it is wholly inconsequential. It doesn’t go the extra mile to actually say anything inspirational. It dutifully races to the finish line at a steady clip with a mechanical eye on the prize. It’s the kind of film best suited for background noise while doing housework. The time limit in the title is precisely how long this one will stick in your mind, and most of that will be courtesy of Jenkins.