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Blind teenager wrestles with adversity in ‘Mat’

Times Staff Writer

It may be as subtle as an after-school special, but tonight’s Disney movie, “Going to the Mat,” about a blind teenager who wrestles his way to acceptance and self-discovery, is above average, enjoyable family fare.

That’s due in large part to Andrew Lawrence, who heads a likable cast, directed by Stuart Gillard. Lawrence -- the handsome 16-year-old brother of actors Joey and Matthew and a stars of the Fox sitcom “Oliver Beene” -- gives a fully committed performance as Jace, a blind New Yorker whose satisfying big-city life gets a shake-up when his family moves to Utah.

Being blind sets him apart from his peers, and a mega-sized chip on his shoulder doesn’t help. Music was his way in at Jace’s old school (Lawrence, a musician himself, performs some impressive drum and guitar licks), but sports are the key to acceptance at his new school. And wrestling is the only sport that will allow him to compete equally with sighted athletes. Blind actor, singer and author Tom Sullivan, who wrestled competitively while he attended college, is an associate producer on this film.

The coach (D.B. Sweeney) and his comely teenage daughter (Alessandra Toreson) are in his corner, and soon even a bullying jock (Billy Aaron Brown) is won over by Jace’s determination to compete without “poster boy” favoritism or allowances for his sightlessness.

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As the team works toward the regional and state finals, Jace, with the help of a growing circle of friends that includes skinny little “Fly” (impressive Khleo Thomas) and a straight-talking, also-blind music teacher (a nice turn by Wayne Brady) loses his defensiveness and finds new physical and emotional strengths.

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‘Going to the Mat’

Where: Disney Channel

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When: Friday, 8 to 9:30 p.m., repeating at 9:45 p.m.

Rating: The network has rated the movie TV-G (suitable for all ages)

Andrew Lawrence...Jace Newfield

Khleo Thomas...Vince Shu “Fly”

D.B. Sweeney...Coach Rice

Wayne Brady...Mason Wyatt

Executive producer, Jana Sue Memel. Director, Stuart Gillard. Writers, Chris Nolan, Laurie Nolan, Steve Bloom and Stu Krieger.


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