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'The Mighty Macs' review: Matt Pais raves, "Extremely OK!"

By Matt Pais

RedEye movie critic

10:00 PM PDT, October 19, 2011

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** (out of four)

“Honey, want to go see that new movie about an all-girls Catholic college? It stars two gorgeous actresses, Carla Gugino and Marley Shelton.”

“That sounds great! You’re the best girlfriend ever.”

“You’re sweet. Oh, just so you know: It’s about women’s basketball, and it’s rated G.”

(Man leaves)

Inspired by the real-life, early 1970s Immaculata College team’s unlikely run to the women’s basketball national championship, “The Mighty Macs” knows subtlety like Lady Gaga knows restraint. The film is filled with coach Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino, always pleasant) telling girls to “Have the courage to follow your dreams” and players only given personalities if they can later learn that their one identifying factor (no money; devoted to her boyfriend) shouldn’t define them. How Cathy’s team-concept strategy turns the bricklayers of the beginning of the film into the sharp shooters of the second half—can you believe a team seemingly shooting 100 percent from the field keeps winning?—remains unclear. Shelton plays the assistant coach questioning her choice to be a nun, and Ellen Burstyn’s the requisite administrative hardass who just might lighten up once the girls get their act together.

The passable, earnest “The Mighty Macs” boasts good intentions and far more basic filmmaking competence than the golf-as-metaphor-for-life Robert Duvall vehicle “7 Days in Utopia,” but that’s as small as small praise gets. Real stories about equality and triumphing in the face of doubters always count for something, but they also need to be handled with creativity and originality. Trying desperately to be a “Stand up and cheer” movie, the film’s reactions will more commonly be, “Stand up and walk calmly out of the theater.”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais