Imagine 'It's a Wonderful Life' where Christmas is replaced with football. Welcome to 'Touchback.'
Scott Murphy (Brian Presley) had everything going for him in high school. He was an impressive quarterback, his girlfriend was the gorgeous head cheerleader, and every college wanted to recruit him. Life could only go up – that is, until he snapped his leg during the final game of his high school career, a state championship. 20 years later, Brian is an overweight has-been whose potential was obliterated by the injury. With only one small dream left within reach, he and his wife Macy (Melanie Lynskey) have taken a leap of faith and purchased a nice chunk of farm land. Scott works full-time as a fireman and spends the remainder of his time at the farm or tending their kids. Macy also works a full-time job.
When an unexpected cold front causes a premature freeze, their crops are just about wasted – along with the last of their dreams. In a moment of failure, despair, and utter depression, Scott funnels his exhaust pipe into the cab of his trucks and slowly drifts to sleep for – what he suspects will be – the last time.
Of course, Scott's not dead. Instead of drifting off to the great beyond, he wakes in his heyday – high school. Day after day, Scott continues to wake up in the past, causing him to believe that this reversal of time is permanent. Knowing what he now knows, he's able to savor the moments of his youth, take advantage of the good and correct the bad. The only thing missing from this nostalgic waking dream is his tender wife Macy. With things being exactly as they were in the past, Scott is ensnared by his coveted, but short-lived, high school sweetheart. He hasn't yet met his wife-to-be, but he longs for her.
Scott's plan seems to be simple, but ultimately proves to be a nearly impossible feat. With the ability to correct his mistakes and rewrite the future, Scott's goal is to win Macy over years earlier than he did in his past life, run a different play than the one that cost him a career in football and fulfill his promising life in an alternate successful manner.
As I watched 'Touchback,' I kept asking myself, 'How in the world did this receive a theatrical release?' This is the type of movie that you would expect to see on the Hallmark channel, not in theaters. I'm certain that the only reason that it went anywhere is because of the name actor who plays the role model coach – Kurt Russell. Aside from the terrible "old man" make-up that he dons in the present-day intro, Russell is the only actor in the movie who actually gives a worthwhile performance. I'm typically a fan of Lynskey, but she's pretty bland here – but it doesn't help that her role is mostly lifeless. Presley, the movie's lead, is downright boring.
The pacing and editing make 'Touchback' a very slow watch. It doesn't help that Scott's suicidal time travel doesn't occur until the 30-minute mark. The tonal and logistical inconsistencies also hurt its progress. 35-year-old Scott is a quiet matured man when the movie starts, but the second he's wisped away to his teenage years, he reverts to the immature boy mentality – by choice, mind you. The movie has the tendency to instantly bounce back and forth from overly dramatic and serious to goofy, sentimental and sappy. It isn't until the second-go at the championship game that the movie finds its fun and becomes worth watching. Had it been able to keep that level of excitement and fun throughout, then perhaps 'Touchback' could have been more tolerable.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay has placed 'Touchback' on a Region A BD-25. This two-disc set also comes with a code for a Vudu copy. The second disc housed in this standard elite keepcase is a DVD copy of the movie. Prior to the main menu, you're forced to watch an FBI warning, an Anchor Bay vanity reel and a studio commentary disclaimer.
'Touchback' arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that's presented in a screen-filling 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Despite carrying the unmistakably crisp and clear look of a digital shoot, the integrity of the movie's look is diminished by repetitive flaws.
The state championship game shown in the opening sequence appears as if it was directed by Zack Snyder; the video constantly slows down and speeds up. As the quarterback runs the balls through the offensive line, the video moves quickly, making him appear to run faster than humanly possible. It's obviously shot at a higher frame rate, appearing slightly choppy. This was most likely a conscious decision so that when the QB dodges a player or rolls off a hit, the footage could decelerate to a smooth speed those dramatizes the action. Truthfully, the football sequences really stand out in a good way.
The major games are always shot at night, revealing deep blacks in the background and bright lights in the foreground. The contrast is pretty spot-on. I wish the same could be said for daytime non-football sequences. During those, the low budget shines through. It's as if all of the budget was spent on making the few football scenes look great, the rest left to look like home video footage. Production value is lost as whites becomes overwhelmingly bright and blacks become a light shade of gray. The contrast is so funky that foreground actors blend into the black shadowy backgrounds behind them. Mind you, these are daytime shots.
Some of the farm shots are exceptionally beautiful, but their grandeur is lessened by banding in the evening sky. Aliasing also rears its head from time to time, but there aren't any instances of artifacts or noise.
The only audio track for 'Touchback' is 5.1 Dolby TrueHD. Much like the video, the football sequences are the only ones that really exemplify strong qualities.
During game time, we are immersed in widespread sounds. As the crowd erupts into cheers, all channels light up with loud uproars. The mid-play sounds of heavy breathing, bodies colliding and helmets smashing one into the other are dynamic and heavy hitting. When Scott's leg is violently snapped and hyper-extended, the audio is literally bone-crushing. But the exemplary nature of this mix is short lived.
Off the field, at its very best, the audio is mediocre. Too often it's bogged down by low levels. The vocal track drops so low that some scenes are almost completely inaudible. (It doesn't help that Presley mumbles through more than half the movie.) There are very few instances outside the football scenes where the audio isn't front-heavy.
It's disappointing when an audio mix can feature such great mixing in select environments, but completely stink in others.
Fans of sports dramas know what they're getting into before watching a sports movie, so they're rarely let down. Had 'Touchback' been a standard sports drama, it might please that same audience – but with a gimmicky concept that turn it into 'It's a Wonderful Lifetime Special,' it focuses too much on the manipulatively dramatic and sentimental non-football aspect. Both the audio and video qualities exceed expectations during the well-shot football sequences; however, both struggle off the field and reveal the movie's low production values. The special features are lacking, containing only a dry commentary and a brief horn-tooting promotional making-of. If 'Touchback' made its way into Walmart's $5 bin, then it might be worth picking up. Until then, its a rental at best.