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Review: Family comedy ‘Shifting Gears’ lurches and grinds

Adam Hicks, from left, M.C. Gainey and R. Keith Harris in the movie “Shifting Gears.”
(Freestyle Digital Media)

Dirt track racing may have its fans, but in “Shifting Gears” it doesn’t prove a particularly exciting arena around which to build a heartland-friendly family comedy. The result, although earnest, is often tepid, overly broad stuff that evokes 1970s-era “Eat My Dust”-type indies filtered through a Disney prism.

Writer R. Keith Harris (also a producer) plays Tom Williamson, a big-box store manager who’s transferred by his distracted supervisor (a scenery-chewing C. Thomas Howell) to another state. At the same time, Tom is left a small-town gas station-garage by his late, estranged father, so he decides instead to pack up his family — wife Carol (Brooke Langton), college-age son Jeremy (Adam Hicks) and tween daughter Stephy (Tate Clemons) — and make a go of it.

A series of obstacles — some credible, some contrived — put the garage in the crosshairs of both a fat-cat land developer (John Ratzenberger) and Tom’s ex-boss, leaving the strapped Tom one option: to win the $50,000 first prize in the “U.S. Open of dirt track racing.” With the help of a former racing champ (M.C. Gainey), the Williamsons jump into the contest.

But when the film, directed by Jason Winn, should accelerate, it turns sluggish, attempting to dot a few too many i’s — thematically, emotionally, racing-wise — in telling its only marginally compelling story, with the lackluster Tom-Jeremy dynamic driving too much of the action.

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‘Shifting Gears’

Not rated.

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

Playing: Simi Valley 10 Cinemas; also on VOD

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