Running on a wing and a prayer
Saint Ralph is certainly one of those movies. The film establishes Ralph (Adam Butcher) rather quickly as a young 1950s Catholic lost in his private school rules and religious dogma. More likely to be caught smoking than praying, he's got plenty of reason to do both, as his dad died in the war and his mom is bed-ridden in the hospital. He's also been forced to be more of a grown-up than he is truly capable of.
After an amusing, though highly-ridiculous sin in the pool, Ralph serves penance by joining the school's cross-country team, in one of those punishments that only happen in movies. His coach, a Nietzsche-quoting priest played smoothly by Campbell Scott (Dying Young), makes the mistake of labeling the boy's chances of winning the upcoming Boston Marathon a miracle. After all, Ralph has been told by his mother's doctor that a miracle is the only thing that will bring her out of the coma she had slipped into.
The rest of the movie consists of an alternating mix of Ralph striving to improve his running, longing for Claire, a pious girl at school, grieving over his mother's condition and banging heads with the school's headmaster. It could have easily slipped into formula, but thanks to Claire's darkly humorous backstory, Scott's strong performance and a few appearances by the always likable Jennifer Tilly, it became an off-kilter coming-of-age story that's not quite cloying, but certainly affecting.
Though the film can feel a bit contrived at times, especially when Ralph pulls on his "adult" persona, it all came together, as the climactic race manages to build real emotion and suspense. My wife came home with about 10 minutes remaining in the film, and watching just the final race, found herself immediately hooked. It's the strength of this ending that overcomes any weakness in the rest of the film, and makes it an entertaining and touching overall experience.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was a nice surprise, with very active surrounds that enhance a strong, clear center channel. The music in the film helps build the atmosphere tremendously, and the mix makes sure it comes across fully. Dialogue is never a problem either, as its crisp and clean.
The other extra is a nine-minute featurette on the making of the film. The piece has interviews with most of the main cast and McGowan, which are mixed with clips from the film and on-set footage. It feels like an EPK, but it's not as fluffy as most of them tend to be.
The Bottom Line