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"BENNETT'S WAR"
(2019) (Michael Roark, Allison Paige) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A former motocross champion, wounded while deployed in Afghanistan, tries to return to racing where he faces a new upstart challenger.
PLOT:
Marshall Bennett (MICHAEL ROARK) was a motocross champion before he joined the military and ended up deployed as a Sergeant in the Army's Motorcycle Unit. Rescuing his fellow soldier, Riley (MICHAEL KING), he ends up driving over an IED tripwire that injures both men.

A year later, he's still recovering and living with his wife, Sophie (ALLISON PAIGE), and their young son on his dad, Cal's (TRACE ADKINS), farm. To make ends meet, he works in a motorcycle shop run by Cyrus (ALI AFSHAR), whose cousin, Tony (TONY PASHA PANTERRA), has a motocross racing team featuring current champion Kurt Walker (BRANDO EATON) and his up and coming younger brother, Chris (HUNTER CLOWDUS).

With Marshall having opted not to have his ankle fused back at the time of the injury, he runs the risk of any small issue potentially meaning he might not ever walk again. And that has Sophie over-protective of him, but Marshall can't get rid of that itch to ride.

Despite the danger of him ending up permanently disabled should he be injured another time, he starts racing again, partly to help pay his dad's mounting farming bills. As he starts to regain his form, and with Sophie trying to suppress her worries and support him, he ends up competing directly with the Walker brothers.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Many people are familiar with the story of Pat Tillman, a then 25-year-old man who gave up a lucrative career in the NFL playing safety for the Arizona Cardinals in order to enlist in the military following the attacks on 9/11. Unfortunately, and despite surviving several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was killed by friendly fire in 2004 at the age of twenty-seven.

When I first heard about "Bennett's War" and its titular protagonist having given up his career of being a professional motocross racer to join the military and likewise serve in Afghanistan, I wondered if the drama was about or at least based on a real-life racer I'd never heard of. And if so, had Tillman perhaps inspired this patriotic act or vice-versa.

Well, to cut to the chase, or race, if you will, the answer is no, the character and his story are purely fictitious in this okay, but fairly formulaic and predictable drama. Michael Roark (looking a bit like he could be Brad Pitt's long-lost brother or, at least, cousin), stars as Marshall Bennett, a one-time motocross pro who's now serving in-country in the Army's motorcycle division with his buddy Riley (Michael King).

Writer/director Alex Ranarivelo hurries through this material, with brief on-the-nose dialogue touching on the racer's patriotic sacrifice. But before we can get a rah-rah response, the two men are ambushed and barely make it out alive, only to drive across a trip-wire that sets off a hidden IED.

A year later, Marshall is living with his "you better not even think about racing again" wife (Allison Paige) and their young son on the family farm that his dad (Trace Atkins) can barely keep afloat. The medically discharged vet works for Cyrus (Ali Afshar) rebuilding motorcycles, but he obviously longs to race again. Unfortunately, his still-healing leg wound is one additional injury away from permanent disability, and thus that seems like a pipe dream or at least a one-way ticket to divorce courtesy of the missus.

But with his old man's farm facing financial hardship and a young upstart racer (Hunter Clowdus) threatening to make Marshall a has-been disappearing into the void of public memory, our plucky hero does the old "damn the torpedoes" bit -- well, figuratively -- hops on his old bike and speeds away on a dark country road hoping his ankle holds up.

It does and soon it's off to the races, and once spouse Sophie comes aboard, the only real drama is whether the leg will hold up (and when the obligatory physical setback will drop) as well as if the former racer can knock off enough rust to beat his younger rival. For better or worse, Ranarivelo opts not to go the PTSD route for additional complications, which is probably a good thing as we've been down that track in plenty of other movies.

Instead, and while still uber-respectful of the military, its veterans and the sacrifices they make, this offering focuses more on the "you can't keep a good man (or at least his passion) down" theme, and all involved manage to make that just engaging enough over the course of an hour and a half or so.

Whereas the briefly seen military scenes looks a bit staged, the motocross footage looks like the real deal, although at times I found myself a bit uncertain where the various competitors were located on the track in the various races (the ever-present announcer, however, keeps us in the loop, albeit with more on-the-nose dialogue).

In the end, enough of the flick works despite some issues that "Bennett's War" crosses the finish line with a final score of 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed August 29, 2019 / Posted August 30, 2019


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