With Carla Gugino, David Boreanaz, Marley Shelton, Ellen Burstyn, Lauren Bittner; Running Time: 102 minutes; Rated G (nothing offensive); Written and directed by Tim Chambers.
Late in THE MIGHTY MACS, one of the characters complains that the dialogue they’ve just delivered is “corny.” Truer words were never spoken. After sitting on a shelf for two years, this movie about a Catholic college girls’ basketball team-that-could finally lumbers into theaters. In spite of a number of shots of star Carla Gugino in tight blouses, this is strictly G-rated inspirational fare.
Gugino plays Cathy Rush who arrives at Immaculata College in Philadelphia in 1971. She’s the only one who has applied for the job. Newly married (to David Boreanaz, who is given little to do but look silly in sideburns and frightful polyester suits), she wants the job to see if she can do something with her life before settling down to being a wife and mother. She finds a young team waiting to be molded, some moldy uniforms, and a basketball court that’s been used as storage space.
Her boss, Mother St. John (Ellen Burstyn), just wants to keep the women occupied and chaste, but Rush wants to forge a team that can win. Building on teamwork, and with the help of a scrappy young nun named Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton), she intends to turn them into just that. Oh, and there’s a rival team they keep playing, coached by the woman who kicked Cathy off the team when she was a student there. Can you say “scrappy underdogs?”
Few clichés are left untapped, including a cast of actresses playing nuns who seem to be hoping they’ve wandered into a “Sister Act” sequel, but instead just get to cheer for the basketball team. There’s an interesting story here because Immaculata College (now a co-ed university) is a real school and the movie is based on the true story of the unknown girls’ basketball team who became national contenders. Unfortunately, first-time writer/director Tim Chambers, the former director of the Pennsylvania Film Office, isn’t up to the task.
Except for Rush and Sister Sunday, the characters are stick figures. When we learn what happened to the various team members at the end of the film you may be hard-pressed to figure out who they were. We don’t really get to know them beyond the one with the boyfriend or the one who is poor. The team practice scenes show them shuffling around on defense without doing much with the ball. The only time they ever seem to shoot baskets is when they’re playing, and then you may be wandering when they learned how to do it.
Gugino and Shelton fare best because their characters are developed, as young women in the 1970s trying to redefine their roles, one as a coach and the other as a nun. Poor Ellen Burstyn is stuck in a thankless role as the killjoy who, wouldn’t you know it, really does have a heart of gold. Of course, since the board of trustees are threatening to close the school and sell the land, her character is a bit distracted.
“The Mighty Macs” means well, and if you’re looking for a wholesome and inspirational sports story, you could do worse. Unfortunately, it’s not much better than a made-for-cable movie, which is probably where this will finally find a comfortable home.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.