"McFarland, USA" doesn't look like it's going to be a runaway hit at the box office -- but don't blame poor ticket sales on film critics.
Even though the Kevin Costner sports drama is hitting theaters on Oscar weekend -- a traditionally slow period at the multiplex -- reviewers seem to agree the film is deserving of big crowds.
Based on a true story, the movie follows the cross-country team at a predominantly Mexican American high school in central California who become unlikely champions with the help of their coach (Costner).
Even though the film follows "entirely predictable" tropes, Costner's performance drives the film forward, says the New York Times' A.O. Scott. "[G]ruff compassion is by now second nature" to the 60-year-old actor, the critic argues, "the last of the old-school movie patriarchs."
"For the truth is no one can play earnest, tenacious, ordinary-hero Kevin Costner roles like Kevin Costner," agrees the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan. "Even though playing Coach White required no artistic heavy lifting on the actor's part, the reliability of his presence is a genuine asset here."
Though she was also a fan of Costner's turn in the film, USA Today's Claudia Puig was equally impressed by how the movie avoided racial stereotypes. "Fortunately, this is not a film where a white savior is sent to rescue underprivileged darker-skinned folks," she said. "As immigration issues spawn divisive attitudes and prejudice in this country, 'McFarland, USA' comes at an optimum time, presenting an engaging view of Latino culture with grace, much like the runners it profiles."
Variety's Justin Chang was more torn on the film's message. Though he applauded the movie's Latino ensemble, he also felt that the movie was "at once mildly progressive and unavoidably retrograde," offering only a surface look into how "the other half lives."
As for the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern, he was one of the few critics who seemed to outright dislike the movie. The script? "Dreadful." The plotting? "Mechanical." The dialogue? "Perfunctory."
"This race truly is not to the swift," he said.