Where’s Ricky Bobby when you need him?
Set against a Talladega dirt-racing backdrop, “Trading Paint” (jargon for car collisions) is a blandly earnest redemptive drama that has a committed John Travolta lead performance to thank for not completely stalling well before reaching the finish line.
Travolta affably conveys integrity and fundamental decency as Sam Munroe, a onetime legend on the Talladega Short Track who had set his sights on passing on the family racing legacy to his brooding son, Cam (Toby Sebastian).
Still hurting over the loss of his mom, who was killed years earlier in a car crash, Cam gives his old man the shaft when he takes up racing for his longtime rival, Bob “Lead Foot” Linsky (an ever-gruff Michael Madsen), who woos him with a shiny car to replace his dad’s old clunker.
Predictable tensions ensue courtesy of a script filled with awkward dramatic exposition and hokey dialogue (sample smack-down: “It’s been a long time since you were somebody!”), while Karzan Kader’s purposeful direction and budget-conscious rear-projection racing sequences ensure any momentum remains stuck in neutral.
To their credit, the cast members manage to keep things real, with Shania Twain, in her film acting debut, warmly inhabiting an otherwise thankless role as Travolta’s supportive girlfriend, but it’s ultimately not enough to compensate for that mighty fine line between trading paint — and watching it dry.
Rated: R for language
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, AMC Rolling Hills 20, Torrance; also on VOD