"The Flying Scotsman" — the story of '90s Scottish cycling sensation Graeme Obree — should, like many good sports movies, be a high-flying tale of triumph, tragedy and redemption. As directed by Douglas Mackinnon, from a script by John Brown, Simon Rose and Declan Hughes, it is instead a surprisingly disengaged, middle-range look at how Obree rose from relative obscurity with a self-designed bike and radical ideas on riding position, only to be undone by the combined forces of the racing establishment and his own bipolar disorder.
Jonny Lee Miller, seen recently in the quickly canceled TV drama "Smith," has long been in need of a role that will allow him to recapture the dash and danger of his part in "Trainspotting," but Obree is not it. The way the "Scotsman" script conceives of Obree cocoons Miller in drabness, and the oblique, sidelong references to his mental condition, never identified outright but hinted at and only fleetingly discussed, mean that Miller spends too much time staring off with an undefined, vaguely troubled look. His natural screen presence is never given the chance to shine through.
It is an overall flatness that most undoes "The Flying Scotsman." Mackinnon, a longtime television director making his feature debut, adds a few visual flourishes — a bit of shallow focus, the occasional odd angle — but there is simply not enough of a sense of Obree's interior life. The film never really conveys what drives and haunts him. "Scotsman" not only lacks vision, a true sense of how to mesh Obree's sporting triumphs and personal setbacks, but it also lacks passion. What it needs, as strange and tacky as it may sound, is a bit more madness.
"The Flying Scotsman." MPAA rating: PG-13 for some mature thematic elements and strong language. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Fallbrook, 6731 Fallbrook Ave., West Hills, (818) 340-8710.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times