My family went to the Madison Regatta once when I was little. At best, my memories of the trip are spotty. The countryside around Madison, Ind., was pretty and the old town had a certain charm. It was sticky hot and the banks of the Ohio were packed with Regatta fans. We sat on and around the car, catching glimpses of the boat race. All I remember is that at first it seemed really cool, but then it got boring. So boring.
Mary McCormack and Jim Caviezel
Which brings us to Madison, a well-intentioned, but dreary look at the 1971 Unlimited Hydroplane national competition. The film has its moments, really it does, but the production has the air of defeat. The sense of listlessness, even during the competitive sequences, takes the edge off the scenes intended to excite and/or inspire. Oh sure, the characters get the job done, but they all seem ... so ... tired.
After years of sitting on the shelf, Madison takes its place alongside other Indiana-related films like Breaking Away (underdogs compete in the Big Race), Hoosiers (underdogs compete in the Big Game), Eight Men Out (corruption in sports), Prancer (deer), Rudy (underdog competes in the Big Game), Blue Chips (corruption in sports) and The Game of the Lives (underdogs compete in the Big Match).
Ah, the rich tapestry of Hoosier film.
Lest I trigger a run of angry e-mails, I should note that several of the listed films are outstanding and that I'm just joking around. I do that, especially when I get so ... very ... tired.
The movie, completed in 2001 and directed by William Bindley, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Scott, is a father-son action-spiced drama based on a true story. In 1971, the Miss Madison hydroplane boat is as faded as the struggling river town for which it is named. Husband and father Jim McCormick (Jim Caviezel) once raced the boat. Now he works as an air conditioner repairman and tends to it in his off hours.
After accompanying the boat for races in Seattle, Chicago and Miami and suffering through the jeers of the corporate racers, Jim is amazed when, on a fluke, Madison is offered the chance to host the prestigious Gold Cup championship. Nobody thinks the financially-strapped little town can pull it off, but Jim keeps plugging along, aided by his right-hand man Tony (Brent Briscoe) and advised from afar by old pal Harry Volpi (Bruce Dern), a gifted boat mechanic.
And of course there's Mike (Jake Lloyd), Jim's devoted son, who sticks by Dad through thick and thin. Jim's wife Bonnie (Mary McCormack), on the other hand, is getting fed up. The boat is a deathtrap, the town is on its last legs and she wants her family to relocate to the big city.
Oh, how will it all turn out?
You already know, natch, but the tried and true path offers a sunny retro-look courtesy of cinematographer James Glennon (About Schmidt) and a surprisingly bright performance from Bruce Dern. Mary McCormack is effective as the frustrated Mrs. McCormick - perhaps part of her frustration comes from the stiff performance of her movie son, Jake Star Wars: Episode One Lloyd. John Mellencamp provides voice-over narration, most of which is unneeded and intrusive.
As for Jim Caviezel, the Passion of the Christ star is unable to give the film that jolt it so desperately needs. He tries to lighten up the proceedings - heck, he's even playful in one scene - but the actor has made a career of looking like he is carrying the weight of the world and his perma-wince doesn't go away, even in the happy scenes.
The closing credits for the movie include some ABC Wide World of Sports footage of the real Jim McCormick (who is as good-looking as the actor playing him and how rare is that?) celebrating a victory with his family. Had the film captured the spirit of that footage, Madison would not have spent four years sitting on the shelf.