Review: ‘50 to 1’ can’t overcome its long odds

The true-life horse-racing tale “50 to 1” takes forever to get galloping — and when it finally does, it’s too little too late.

Directed by Oscar-winning producer Jim Wilson (“Dances With Wolves”) from a script he wrote with Faith Conroy, the movie over-focuses on the people surrounding longshot Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird instead of making us feel something real and primal for the horse itself.

Perhaps if the folks responsible for getting the crooked-footed equine to the big show that year (2009) were more interesting, the film could have soared where it sinks. But this “misfit group of New Mexico cowboys” (and one young woman) lack depth and dimension: hapless trainer Chip Woolley (Skeet Ulrich); the gelding’s owners, Mark Allen (Christian Kane) and Leonard Blach (William Devane); and exercise rider Alex (Madelyn Deutch). The fleeting conflicts that crop up among them often feel contrived and perfunctory.


Far too much of this plodding picture is spent on odd couple Chip and Alex’s road trip transporting Mine That Bird to Kentucky. Forced atmospherics, clichéd action bits and some tone-deaf slapstick weigh things down as well.

As for the climactic race at Churchill Downs, in which Mine That Bird miraculously trumps his 50-to-1 odds to place first, the movie finally whips up some energy — but no surprise or tension.

Though a likable presence, Ulrich never seems fully comfortable in his under-heroicized role. Worse, we get little sense of Woolley’s training abilities; the character spends more time talking to his horse than putting him through the paces.

The acting throughout is, to be charitable, spotty, particularly from quite a few ill-chosen supporting players. These include Mine That Bird’s actual jockey, Calvin Borel, who plays himself here, an idea better in theory than in practice. Not unlike this entire enterprise.


“50 to 1”

MPAA rating: PG-13 for some suggestive material and a bar brawl.

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Playing: In limited release.