Secretariat Randall Wallace

Secretariat Randall Wallace
It's understood that inspirational Disney movies implicitly drip with sugary sweet confections, uplifting the human spirit via dangerously idealistic pabulum, such as the notion that taking huge risks because of a "feeling" will work out if you're a good Christian. But do they have to be written like corporate instructional videos?

In just one of many scenes that will incite derisive snickers, industrious Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) excitedly announces to husband Jack (Dylan Walsh), "I just received a phone call from Ogden Phipps!" Jack interjects, "You mean, richest man in America, Ogden Phipps?" "Yes, that's the one," Penny replies, acknowledging their little expositional tête-à-tête much as they do in bank commercials.

Perhaps the fact that it's set in early '70s Virginia has something to do with everyone talking like a Tennessee Williams reject, paraphrasing off-hand comments with laboured prescience. Housewife turned horse stable businesswoman/proto-feminist Penny complains of young mare Secretariat's laziness and tendency to overeat, while the rain-dancing, Gospel-singing, coloured hired hand, Eddie Sweat (Nelson Ellis), mutters, "But he has the heart of a champion."

Seemingly, his heart is what leads Penny to risk her stable and tear a strip off any man than challenges her ― often while assistant Miss Ham (Margo Martindale) hides around the corner, snickering and exaggeratedly smiling ― eventually establishing her horse as a contender for the esteemed Triple Crown title.

For nearly two hours, this maudlin hokum drones on, championing the underdog, occasionally cutting to French-Canadian horse trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) to provide some comic relief through colourful rants. There's even some laboured subtext, as Penny's daughter, Kate (Amanda Michalka), embraces the hippie movement and runs off to newly Socialist Chile to protest. Jack complains that Penny's assertive personality is what made their daughter a Communist, connecting those dots for audience members suffering head injuries.

While I'm certain that somewhere there are folks ready to embrace such a phoney, manufactured helping of status quo ethos, excitedly clapping to themselves with big, ignorant grin, I can't in good conscience recommend something like this to anyone for any purpose other than drinking game derision. (Buena Vista)