Saint Ralph
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // $24.96 // December 13, 2005
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted December 5, 2005
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In 10 Words or Less
Running on a wing and a prayer

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: A good coming-of-age story
Likes: Campbell Scott, Jennifer Tilly
Hates: Wasted potential

The Movie
There are plenty of movies, none of which I can at all remember right now, that feel like they should be better than they are. The premise is right, the actors are good, but there's something that's not quite right. If it was there, the movie would be great, but it's not, so what you're left with is disappointing, yet still worth watching.

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.

A one-disc release, Saint Ralph comes in a standard keepcase with a promotional insert. The disc has a static anamorphic widescreen main menu, offering options to play the film, adjust subtitles, select scenes, view special features and check out previews. Subtitles are available in English, along with closed captioning, while the scene-select menus have titles and still previews for each chapter.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen transfer is very clean, presenting the movie very well. The film's alternating warm and cold color palettes are captured cleanly, while the level of detail is high, though not overly sharp, as a slightly hazy feel was maintained, possibly in an attempt to represent the time period. There's not a speck of dirt or damage to be found here, nor are there any digital artifacts.

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 Extras
A fetaure-length audio commentary with writer/director Michael McGowan provides some insight into the film's production and shares stories from the shoot. McGowan's got plenty to say, leaving little dead air, through most of it is simply him commenting on what's going on on-screen or talking about his actors. It's certainly informative, but a bit light on the entertainment.

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
Saint Ralph could have been a great movie, but like so many films in the coming-of-age genre, something went wrong along the way, and it became an OK film instead. Though only Scott stands out in the cast, the performances are good overall, and the movie is genuinely enjoyable because of it. The DVD doesn't disappoint in terms of the presentation, and the few extras included will satisfy anyone wishing to learn more about the making of the movie. If you get into inspirational, emotional films, this isn't a bad way to spend some time fighting back sniffles.

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