For a sport whose red-blooded jock detractors angrily decry that it's an "un-American" invader, soccer sure gets lots of screen time in this country's multiplexes.

The latest tribute to the glorifying power of shin guards and gutsy goals, has the heart of a winner, but lacks the flash and skill to be a real box-office contender. Yet another uplifting underdog sports saga "based on a true story," Gracie is so heartfelt, earnest and plucky that it feels like bad sportsmanship to kick it while it's down.

The story, and stop me if this sounds familiar, involves a soccer-obsessed suburban family in the late 1970s, rocked by the death of their star athlete eldest son Johnny (Jesse Lee Sofer).

Determined to follow in the muddy cleat marks of her beloved brother, Gracie (Carly Schroeder) sets out to make the boys varsity team, and win the big game to lift the spirits of her depressed, hard-ass dad (Dermot Mulrooney) and the whole dang town. What follows is a mishmash of Rudy-style hokum, Bend It Like Beckham-flavored girl-power and a dash of hazy, coming-of-age nostalgia. The clichés pile up, and the overwrought on-field action scenes are as choreographed as ballet. Worse, there are all the usual training scenes, the friends that just can't understand her and the macho dips who tell her to go back to the kitchen. Its ending will surprise no one who has ever seen a movie.

There's much lip-service here to the struggle of women athletes in "men's" games, but the groundbreaking federal anti-discrimination act, Title IX, is nothing more than a piddling plot point here.

But Gracie is not without charms; Schroeder's a very watchable performer, with an involving emotional intensity. Too often though she's let down by the bland, entirely undistinguished script that strives to dim down the characters even as the actors are working to liven them up. It's a shame that such a dull finish is applied to a story that obviously comes from a real place of passion. It's a family affair for the producers, stars and (sort of) real-life inspirations Elisabeth Shue and brother Andrew Shue (who has a bit role as a coach). As well as Elisabeth's husband, director Davis Guggenheim, who picked this project as a weird follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth.

As fiction, Gracie is passable and forgettable, and maybe the Shues would have been better off just opening the family scrapbook.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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