For the bulk of its run time, Run the Race does its best to sidestep its faith-based and Nicholas Sparks-ish leanings, merely tapping those buttons on occasion lest viewers think they’re watching a secular, nonmasochistic story.
Initially presented as a Friday Night Lights cousin, Chris Dowling’s film — executive-produced by former college football standout Tim Tebow — builds excitement on the high school football field as unoriginally named star running back Zach Truett (Tanner Stine) seeks to impress a visiting college scout and escape dead-end Bessemer, Ala.
As the season rolls on, achieving that cinematically dull goal seems to be the film’s primary directive, one complicated by the lingering effects of a brain injury Zach’s quarterback brother Davey (Evan Hofer) sustained an ambiguous amount of time ago, as well as Zach’s own on-field obstacles.
Likewise in need of eventual resolution is the fate of their estranged, alcoholic father Michael (Kristoffer Polaha), who abandoned his sons following the death of their mother. But as the Truetts attend a school where classes are apparently optional and perhaps nonexistent, the film’s religious message intensifies and becomes its primary focus.
In turn, screen time for Pastor Baker (Mario Van Peebles) increases, and Zach gradually wrestles with his shelved beliefs through means ranging from refreshingly organic and balanced to forehead-slappingly obvious as he falls for lovely nurse Ginger (Kelsey Reinhardt), his Manic Pixie Christian Dream Girl.
A graduate of the Chloë Grace Moretz Academy of Mouth Breathing, Stine excels in loose, humorous moments, but can’t compete with Hofer in the more emotionally wrought scenes. Most potent as a duo, dedicated to helping each other overcome their adversities, the brothers are nonetheless in the service of an increasingly odd, logic-defying drama that’s all the more bizarre for its mixed messages about football.
Despite Davey’s life-altering ailment — written off as the result of a cheap shot by a dirty player — the embrace of the sport by the Truetts, the community and beyond is consistent with the blind eye many fans (this reviewer included) turn to football’s dark side. Framing the family’s journey through these violent trappings as heroic and blessed by a higher power, however, only makes its thesis more difficult to accept.