On paper, Rick Bieber’s based-on-a-true-story, numerically impossible The 5th Quarter is attempting to be two things by mixing a homegrown, faith-based film with an uplifting sports movie. But it’s not really either of these things, and it’s confusing to the point that I’m not sure the filmmakers are sure what this movie’s supposed to be.
Sure, there’s a few doses of religiosity here and there, mostly in the way of scripture quoting, but it’s not something the plot revolves around, It’s also never as heavy-handed about its religious agenda as we’ve seen in other films, like the Kendrick Brothers’ faux-sentimental, blubbering oeuvre (including the 2006 faith-via-football flick Facing the Giants). Instead, the movie’s crux is the Wake Forest football team, who’ve all rallied around the sudden death of Luke Abbate (Stefan Guy), the kid brother of the team’s star defensive player Jon (Ryan Merriman, Final Destination 3, playing the world’s doughiest football player). The idea is that we’re in for a tale of inspired underdogs, which is true to an extent. But for some reason (probably budgetary), the only football we get is in the form of highlight reels from TV broadcasts of the actual Wake Forest games the film is portraying.
I guess the argument could be made that the film is more of a character study, since much of the plot is dedicated to the Abbate family’s attempts at getting over the death of their youngest son. The problem with this is that the approach is too vague. We get lots of grieving and serious-minded acting from dad (Aidan Quinn) and one good outburst of disgust at suburbia from mom (Andie MacDowell), but then everything’s fine when football’s going on.
The real point of the movie seems to be the virtues of organ donation, since in real life, Luke’s death saved the lives of five people, including that of a mother. It’s hard to argue the nobility of that, but at the same time, it’s not used very well cinematically, only popping up at the beginning and end of the film. If there’s an ultimate message here beyond that, it’s lost in the telling. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements.