Film Review: The Mighty Macs

This distaff basketball tale dribbles away any chance for excitement through a mountainous accumulation of blinding clichés.

The Mighty Macs is the story of Cathy Rush, the brave coach who guided the women’s basketball team of Immaculata College to victory in 1972, raising the bar for female sportsmanship. Rush’s achievement was exciting and compelling, unfortunately everything this film is not.

Writer-director Tim Chambers has employed every formulaic cliché of every underdog sports movie ever made—Rudy inevitably springs to mind—and comes up with something so bland that you wonder if even the sweat pouring off those dribbling girls is real. There’s not an ounce of true suspense or surprise on the team’s oh-so-predictable road to glory. And heaven help us if he doesn’t use the Catholic environs of Immaculata to give us more cute nuns and codgerish priests than we’ve seen since Going My Way, all clucking over that upstart Women’s Libber of a coach.

Gugino, who has done some impressive if highly variable work on the New York stage, makes a fit, feisty heroine and does her best to humanize a character drawn in idealized, primary colors: courageous, tireless, determined and so very, very good, if perhaps a tad obsessed. As the ubiquitously redoubtable Mother Superior, Ellen Burstyn fills her habit with Actors Studio competence, and when told that the financially strapped school will need divine intervention to save it, responds, “That’s just what I’ve been praying for.” Yes, the dialogue is like that and, yes, there is that one young nun (Marley Shelton) suffering a crisis of faith which must be wearisomely addressed.

David Boreanaz is wasted as Rush’s NBA coach of a husband, under whose shadow his wife chafes. As for the team players, a passel of fresh ingénues admirably attempt to infuse life into Chambers’ cardboard conceptions, so we have Kim Blair realizing that she doesn’t need a man to define her, even after being dumped by her boyfriend, and Katie Hayek becoming all that she can truly be, despite having no fashion sense and being poor. It’s cartoon feminism, strained through the Lifetime Channel.

And despite the use of period music like Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” the movie gives you no feeling of actually being set in the sexy, scruffily alive 1970s as much as it does a generic, strictly mall-targeted virtual universe of entertainment. Disneyfication continues apace.