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'McFarland, USA' is a movie Disney should be proud of
Kevin Costner, foreground left, embraces Carlos Pratts in a scene from "McFarland, USA." - photo by Doug Wright
"McFarland, USA" (rated PG) 3 1/2 stars

This is a film Walt Disney would be proud to have his name on. Based on a true story, "McFarland, USA" is truly inspirational.

Kevin Costner stars as Coach White, who has a bit of an issue with self-discipline and controlling his temper. Several outbursts have left him virtually unemployable. Only the most desperate schools are willing to hire him to coach their football programs. One such school is McFarland High in the heart of Californias fruit-growing country.

To say its a bit of a culture shock for the coachs lily white family to pull into the driveway of their new, downsized home in a very Hispanic neighborhood is a gross understatement. The Whites' youngest daughter poses an innocent question when she asks, Are we in Mexico? After inspecting their new home, the immediate reaction and family goal is to get out of there as soon as they can.

But something fascinating slowly happens. Coach White notices that the physical prowess of the boys in the school doesnt lean toward the gridiron. These boys are runners. Their impressive endurance comes from working before and after school in the fields, an essential element of their families' survival.

McFarland has never had a cross country team before, but recent changes in school funding facilitate the experiment, and the magic begins. Its not just a transformation in the boys, but an elevation of school and community pride and a breakdown in the ethnic barriers as well.

Watching this unfold is a delight.

Is McFarland, USA predictable? Yes, and wonderfully so.

Is it a bit cheesy here and there? Yes, but it never turns into a cheese puff.

For example, after Coach White really messes up his older daughters 15th birthday, one of his runners' mothers asks when she will have her quinceanera. Hes told that this birthday is a girls passage into womanhood and is a very big deal.

With the help of all the women, Coach pulls it off and redeems himself, but will a gang-oriented confrontation spoil it all? Thankfully, director Niki Caro doesnt let this storyline run amuck.

Costner really is making a comeback with some good performances as of late, and this is one of them. But the sparkle in the movie comes from the portrayals in the neighborhood, including Diana Maria Riva as Senora Diaz, mother of three of the runners. She is the conscience and spunk in the community. While all the boys who make up the team are terrific, an appropriate focus is on Carlos Pratts as star runner Thomas. Theres real heart here.

This is the movie everybody tells me they want, but sadly dont go to see when Hollywood actually steps up.
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