Saint Ralph Mike McGowan

When God appears to Ralph Walker (Adam Butcher), the plucky 14-year-old hero of Canadian film-maker Michael McGowan's colossally sentimental St. Ralph, donning a Santa suit, you learn pretty much everything you need to know about the film. Set in a Roman Catholic boys' school in Hamilton, ON, in the 1950s, it is a mawkish, inspirational tear-jerker that is as sweet as Tim Horton's latest confection. Those who like their crullers chocolate dipped will lap it up; everyone else will retch. Conventional in its characterisation and narrative, the story centres on a young man who in an attempt to cure his mother of the cancer that ravages her body sets out on a quixotic quest to run the Boston Marathon. Campbell Scott — looking hot in a cassock — is the one responsible for planting the seed and plays the requisite kindly, forward-thinking teacher who, of course, runs afoul of the school's glowering headmaster (Gordon Pinsent), who, for his part, is quick to crush our young protagonist's dreams and menace any and all who fall out of line. Writer/Director Michael McGowan attempts to add a little salt to the story by making his would-be miraculous hero a bit bratty. Goofy and remarkably self-assured in most of his scenes, Adam Butcher as Ralph drinks bourbon, peeps at girls showering and burns down a house, yet throughout it all manages to convey a fresh authenticity that rises above the treacle-laden lines he is forced to deliver. Scott, who is often the smartest guy in the room in any movie, appears almost to bristle against the film's bright, sunny aplomb, but you have to give him props for riding a bike in a long dress. By the time the third act roles in — set to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," the new catch-all song for movie epiphanies, as sung by Gord Downie (it's Telefilm, what do you want?) — we know how this ship's going to go down. But it doesn't stop McGowan from banging on the hum-drum. Short on extras (there is only a director's commentary), the film's running scenes will appeal to those who hit the road on a daily basis and parents on the lookout for inspirational fare. (Alliance Atlantis)