[Screen It]

(2009) (Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron) (PG-13)

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Drama: A confident woman and her Southern family take in a poor and undereducated teen, give him the home life he never had, and help him hone his football skills that make him a top college prospect.
Leigh Anne Touhy (SANDRA BULLOCK) is a confident woman with a profitable business as a home designer, a good husband in restaurateur Sean (TIM McGRAW), and proud mother to teen Collins (LILY COLLINS) and her younger and quite precocious brother, S.J. (JAE HEAD). She's used to getting what she wants, but does so with a heaping of southern charm that prevents others from harboring any bad feelings toward her.

When she sees teenager Michael Oher (QUINTON AARON) walking along in the cold without proper attire, and not only learns that he attends the same Christian school where S.J. is a student, but has also been sleeping in the gym there due to his mom being a drug addict, Leigh Anne decides without hesitation that he should stay with them.

She isn't the only one interested in him, however, as Coach Cotton (RAY McKINNON) realizes the teen's immense size could come in quite handy on the football team. The only problems are Michael knows little about how to play the game, is perhaps too passive in training, and doesn't have the grades or reading ability to be on the squad.

Even so, and with both the Touhys and various teachers' help, Michael progresses both in the classroom and on the field, eventually drawing the attention of college recruiters. With his grades needing more help, however, Leigh Anne hires tutor Miss Sue (KATHY BATES) to get him ready for college, but they must all contend with several obstacles that threaten to undermine their work and his future potential.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
The fun thing about watching live sports is that you never know how things are going to turn out. Yes, the parameters in which any particular game, match, bout or race takes place are always the same, and sometimes there are nearly one-hundred percent sure things in terms of who will succeed or fail. But as they like to say in football, "On any given Sunday..." (which should now include Monday...and Thursday...and Saturday), which is another way of saying there's no such thing as absolute certainty when it comes to the outcome of any sport.

The not so fun thing about most sports movies is that they're almost always completely predictable. Sure, sometimes the crowd favorite doesn't prevail at the end (since it's the journey getting there that makes them winners, e.g. "Rocky"), and there are some filmmakers who wisely focus more on the characters than the actual contests. For the most part, though, you know the outcome long before the clock starts ticking, the whistle blows, or the end credits roll.

Sadly, "The Blind Side" doesn't buck that trend, although it works better than expected in the first half before turning completely conventional in the second. Based on the true story of Michael Oher who overcame all sorts of obstacles to eventually play in the NFL (at offensive left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens), the pic's previews not only had me resigned to said sports predictability, but also concerned that it was going to fall into two other movie conventions.

And those would be the "Mighty Whitey" and "Magic Negro" ones. The first is where a white character ends up coming along like the Lone Ranger to save the day for some troubled minority one who, for any number of reasons, can't succeed on their own. The second is where said minority figure ends up "magically" transforming that white character's life, be that simply by their presence or some sort of life on the streets, cultural or ethnic experience and/or wisdom they purposefully or incidentally impart.

Accordingly, I went into our press screening with the lowest of expectations (which actually isn't a bad way to experience a film), fearing the worst of all three cinematic stereotypes (not to mention the southern firecracker femme persona on display by lead actress Sandra Bullock).

While it's not remotely original, does suffer from some of those issues and loses momentum as it proceeds, I'm happy to report it's not as awful as one might expect. Granted, that's not exactly a ringing endorsement and certainly won't be seen in the ad campaign ("Not as bad as one might have been lead to believe"), but it means it's not the complete chore to sit through as many might imagine.

By that, I mostly mean film critics as I'm guessing the pic -- directed by John Lee Hancock from his screenplay adaptation of Michael Lewis' book -- will probably play well to the average moviegoer who likes these sorts of sports movies. It's certainly designed with said viewers in mind, what with the usual array of audience pleasing material ranging from (but certainly not limited to) the rags to riches story, plucky take-charge central character, precocious secondary kid character, some bad seeds who threaten to undermine everything and serve as the necessary complications, and the gentile giant protagonist for whom you're naturally supposed to root.

Newcomer Quinton Aaron is fairly good in that role, and thankfully underplays the part. Yet, save for a few flashbacks to a traumatic incident in his childhood and various forlorn looks, we don't really know a lot about him or what he thinks until the very end of the movie. In other words, he's more reactive than proactive.

That latter quality lies firmly in the hands of Bullock who seems to be channeling Julia Roberts doing a mixture of Erin Brockovich and Joanne Herring (meaning a strong-willed, take-no-prisoners but charming and sexy as heck Southern woman). It's certainly a performance that will appeal to many a viewer, and the actress feels quite comfortable in it.

Tim McGraw is good playing the more reserved and self-deprecating husband, while Jae Head appears ready to play Macaulay Culkin should a biopic about him emerge before the young actor grows out of his precocious cuteness. I was about ready to through the penalty flag on that very quality (especially with the kid doing the negotiating for his new big brother), but the end credit photos make at least some of that behavior seem authentic.

They, along with Kathy Bates as a tutor and Lily Collins as the older sister, however, end up having to deal with the multiple montages and other genre conventions that start piling on in the second half. With that, the film loses some of the charm and interest it had going for it in the first, as if the filmmakers simply ran out of moviemaking plays and thus had to resort to the tried and true.

That might still play well with the crowd, but many a color commentator reviewer will likely criticize the change in game plan and its return to predictability where the outcome is never in doubt. Good in the first half and rote in the second, but still likely an overall crowd pleaser for many a viewer, "The Blind Side" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 4, 2009 / Posted November 20, 2009

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