Heartfelt but predictable, Madison tells the true story of a how a dying Indiana town finds respectability when its citizens team together to win a hydroplane Gold Cup. Revitalizing a small town is a noble theme but not necessarily an entertaining one. Director William Bindley, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Scott, doesn't use a broad enough canvas to bring the civics behind the story to life. On a personal level, Madison is just one more bland, sketchy coming-of-age story in which a son discovers that his father is a quiet hero.
The story takes place in 1971, when the small Indiana river town of Madison is losing most of its workforce to plant closings. Despite its long tradition of boat racing, the town now has trouble financing the Miss Madison, a hydroplane that races on a national circuit. Team manager Jim McCormick (James Caviezel), a former racer who was badly injured in a crash, can't compete successfully against teams with corporate sponsors, but doesn't want to let his neighbors down. At a dinner for hydroplane teams, he rashly promises that Madison will pay to host the Gold Cup finals.
The people of Madison pull together, using bake sales and check kiting to pay the $50,000 Gold Cup fee. McCormick fights with his wife Bonnie (Mary McCormack), who wants him to leave Madison for a better-paying job somewhere else. His ten-year-old Mike (Jake Lloyd) is in danger of losing faith in him.
Despite the odds, McCormick perseveres. When the Miss Madison team loses two racers, one to a fatal accident, McCormick realizes that he will have to race the boat himself. Retired mechanic Harry Volpi (Bruce Dern) arrives to help out before the Gold Cup. He also finds the time to teach Mike an important lesson about his father.
Bindley obviously respects his material, but events in Madison unfold in an enervating monotone, punctuated by a dozen or so period pop songs. The actors, including a pre-Passion of the Christ Caviezel and the usually reliable Paul Dooley as the town mayor, can't overcome the soggy script. As the clichés mount up, it's easy to see why the film has been waiting for a release since 2001.