“The Boys in the Boat” sinks


Be warned: “The Boys in the Boat” is no “Chariots of Fire.”

Sorry, George.

The film, which is being released on Christmas Day, had all of the elements for a memorable movie: a big-name director (George Clooney); a handsome young leading man (Callum Turner); and a story filled with loads of inherent drama, like the Great Depression, the Olympics, Nazis, and a sweet romance.

Callum Turner stars as Joe Rantz in “The Boys in the Boat.” (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)

There is SO much there. It’s based on a 2013 non-fiction book of the same name and subtitled “Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics,” by Daniel James Brown. In it, the 1936 University of Washington junior varsity eight-oar crew team is an underdog that defeats big-name, well-funded schools for the right to represent its country in Germany on the brink of World War II.

And you can guess how those games turned out.

Seems like a can’t-miss, right? The failures of the movie are not the fault of the source material, a book that The New York Times at the time called “a global phenomenon.” The film adaptation, based on a screenplay by Mark L. Smith, feels like it just brushes the surface of this amazing tale. What we see on the screen is so … lightweight. Lukewarm. Mediocre.

Forgettable. (OK, I’ll stop there.)

The protagonist is Joe Rantz, a teenager (played by Turner) whose mother died when he was 4 and whose father abandoned him when he was 15. Rantz, living alone in a dilapidated house in Sequim, Wash., manages to finish high school and get into UW, in pursuit of a degree in engineering. In search of a way to pay tuition, he’s led to believe that by joining the university’s crew team, he’ll be given a job as well.

Cue the predictable scenes of the grimacing wannabes in training, judgmental coaches ready to pounce.

There are tender moments, to be sure, such as a withdrawn rower coming out of his shell to play piano at a dance, or the budding romance of Rantz and his future wife, Joyce Simdars (Hadley Robinson), a Reese Witherspoon lookalike, or the generous act of a coach at a competing school.

But there is little emotional connection with any of the characters (go ahead, try to remember their names after seeing “The Boys In the Boat”), and that includes rowing coach Al Ulbrickson, played by Joel Edgerton (the only recognizable actor in the cast). They are mostly wooden caricatures.

Even the score (by Alexandre Desplat) falls flat, with light tinkling and jarring frippery where we wanted sweeping orchestrations that would carry us away with the intended drama of it all. It does the film no favors. (Don’t even get me started on the way in which Jesse Owens is introduced. Ugh.)

The good news: There is plenty of information available online about the people being portrayed, which can answer questions that the film does not:

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