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'23 Blast' plays well but doesn't score

'23 Blast' plays well but doesn't score
A scene from "23 Blast." (Handout)

The football drama "23 Blast" tells a story that wouldn't make it past a pitch meeting if it weren't based in fact: how Kentucky high schooler Travis Freeman (Mark Hapka) lost his sight overnight after a severe infection but continued to play football for his high school team in the touch-based role of ball-snapping center.

Freeman's Christianity — he went on to become a pastor (and makes a cameo as one) — gives "23 Blast" a dutiful faith-based message of inner sight over biologically working eyes, but everything else about the movie is by-the-numbers inspirational trudgework.

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Dylan Baker, a quality character actor making his directorial debut (and playing Travis' father), sets up a genuinely wholesome community feeling with the movie's early scenes of athletic camaraderie and parental boosterism. But once tragedy strikes, the clichés in Bram and Toni Hoover's screenplay win out, and Baker never stirs up enough energy to make it feel any different from a thousand other tales of underdog triumph.

One saving grace is the string of appealing performers, including Stephen Lang as the coach taking a chance on Travis, Alexa Vega as Travis' girlfriend, and Baker's wife, Becky Ann Baker, as a physical therapist.

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"23 Blast"

MPAA rating: PG-13 for teen drinking.

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

Playing: In general release.

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