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Review: Feel-good ‘Coach Bob Larsen Story’ fails to dig too deep

Larsen

Coach Bob Larsen photographed in the year 2000.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The documentary “City Slickers Can’t Stay With Me: The Coach Bob Larsen Story” charts the decorated career of its titular distance-running coach who led UCLA to NCAA men’s outdoor track and field championship victories in 1987 and 1988. He counts Olympic gold medalists Steve Lewis, Danny Everett and Kevin Young among his disciples and has trained Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi for two decades.

Its title lifts from Larsen’s testimonial on how he initially took an interest in distance running after moving from a Minnesota farm to San Diego. The film supplies few other biographical details and no family photos. Surely there’s more to Larsen than a Hall of Fame career. Director Robert Lusitana, a former student, doesn’t pry.

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Imperturbable, soft-spoken with a flat Midwestern accent and a dry sense of humor, Larsen dispenses only a few tips each time for runners to concentrate on but never barks those from trackside.

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For the uninitiated, all the name-dropping still won’t help ring any bells. But it doesn’t take a track-and-field fanatic to admire an educator who gears toward individual needs to bring out the best in each pupil and make a difference in every life. Indeed, the praises sung by those he’s trained sound like that oft-told feel-good story of an inspirational coach, à la “McFarland, USA.” His runners’ successes speak volumes, but the film never ventures outside of his inner circle to gain more perspective.

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“City Slickers Can’t Stay With Me: The Coach Bob Larsen Story.”

No MPAA rating.

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Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.

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