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Review: ‘Overcomer’ reaches the finish line — eventually

Aryn Wright-Thompson, Alex Kendrick, Priscilla C. Shirer in “Overcomer”
Aryn Wright-Thompson, Alex Kendrick and Priscilla C. Shirer in the movie “Overcomer.”
(Sara Burns / Sony-AFFIRM Films)

The faith-based drama “Overcomer” is driven by the idea that a relationship with Christ should be what defines a believer, but the film itself struggles to find its center. The latest offering from the Kendrick brothers (“War Room,” “Fireproof”) weaves between a sports movie and a religious one, only successfully uniting the two at the finish line — after taking far too long to get there.

In addition to co-writing the ambling script with Stephen Kendrick, director Alex Kendrick also stars as high school basketball coach John Harrison. He proves adequate in some scenes, but in others he has all the charm of an associate pastor at an under-attended church.

After a solid season at Brookshire Christian, John sets his sights on next year’s championship. However, when the town steel plant closes and transfers the local workforce, player after player peels off from the team as their families relocate, leaving John feeling lost without the job he loves.

Principal Brooks (Priscilla C. Shirer) asks him to coach the cross-country team, which ends up consisting of only one girl: Hannah Scott (Aryn Wright-Thompson). John hates running, but he pushes the teen toward the long-shot goal of winning the state championship, even though she has yet to run a race. While he trains her, he befriends an ailing former cross-country champion who helps him as both a coach and a man of God.

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The Kendricks’ script focuses more on tugging at the heartstrings instead of developing characters, not realizing that we’d care more about them if they felt like people. Their motivations aren’t always clear, and John’s wife, Amy (Shari Rigby), is particularly underdeveloped; a number of her lines are simply her repeating what her husband has just said.

Meanwhile, “Overcomer” frequently mines humor from John’s disdain for the sport he now finds himself coaching, an approach that will increase the film’s appeal for non-runners. It’s likely to be less successful in winning the hearts of nonbelievers, at least in its first two acts.

Kendrick’s film eventually finds its legs in the final stretch, with an emotionally effective conclusion that might persuade even the cynics to its cause. Whether it converts them to running or to Christ will depend on the viewer.

‘Overcomer’
Rating: PG, for some thematic elements

Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

Playing: In general release


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