Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987)

amazing grace

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid stops playing baseball.

After touring a nuclear missile plant 11-year-old Chuck (Joshua Zuehlke) becomes traumatized at the prospect of nuclear war and wants to come up with some way to help prevent it. His solution is to quit playing little league baseball until there is complete nuclear disarmament as his pitching skills are impressive and therefore his talents will be sorely missed and thus make a strong statement to others about his commitment. After reading about him in a newspaper Amazing Grace (Alex English) a star basketball player for the Boston Celtics decides to do the same thing. He even moves to Livingston, Montana where Chuck resides so the two can carry on their self-styled protest together. Soon other athletes jump onto the bandwagon until a genuine movement is created that eventually gets the attention of world leaders.

The plot is indeed idealistic if not extraordinarily fanciful and has the stigma of being written by David Field who later went on to write the script for ‘Invisible Child’ a notorious Lifetime movie that has gained a cult following for having one of the dumbest plotlines ever and this one isn’t all that far behind. My eyes were already rolling before it even began, but I still wanted to give it a chance. Mike Newell’s direction is competent and Zuehlke’s performance in this his one and only film appearance is convincing and it even has a cameo appearance by coaching legend Red Auerbach.

I found it almost unnatural though that any kid could have such a strong resolve and commit to such a major sacrifice as at that age they can go through a lot of different phases and whatever they may be into one day can be something completely different just a few days later. Even responsible adults can have a hard time sticking to their commitments, so expecting a kid to do so seemed almost outlandish, but I forgave it because his Dad was a fighter pilot and therefore it made it more personal.

I was even willing to forgive the second act, which gets increasingly more strained and implausible by the minute because of the presence of Chuck’s father (William Petersen) who manages to keep things somewhat grounded by being the film’s only cynical character. However, the idea that a famous and successful player, which is played by an actual former NBA star who gives a wooden performance, would read a short article about a kid in a newspaper and that would be enough to ‘inspire’ him to quit everything and move to the middle of nowhere is just downright ridiculous as is Chuck being called to White House all alone and not accompanied by his parents, so that he could speak with the President (Gregory Peck) who begged him to start playing again because his stubborn stance has somehow hurt their bargaining power with the Russians.

The third act though is when it all gets to be too much and something that no logical or rational person will be able to swallow no matter how optimistic they may be. The film also enters in a side story dealing with Grace being stalked by a terrorist group threatening to kill him unless he goes back to playing basketball, which seemed to come from some completely different movie altogether and makes this already implausible story all the more absurd.

I’m all for a ‘feel-good’ movie, but there has to be some bearing in reality and when every player around the world quits playing and all the children quit speaking in order to show their solidarity for Chuck then this thing becomes just plain stupid and takes the concept of wish fulfillment to ridiculously new and embarrassing heights.

Of course there are some who feel the ‘positive message’ outweighs its otherwise fairy tale-like theme. There is even one reviewer on Amazon who shows his students this movie as a way to teach them the importance of having a ‘cause’. I for one think this would be a bad thing to show to young viewers because it gives them the idea that fighting for social change will be a quick and satisfying experience while also making them ‘famous’ in the process, which seems to be setting them up for a tremendous fall when they actually get out into the real world and find things to be the exact opposite.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 19, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mike Newell

Studio: Tri Star Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

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