“4 Minute Mile” at least has the decency to acknowledge that it’s aware of its underdog sports-movie clichés, especially the ones that made “The Karate Kid” such an ‘80s classic.
Kelly Blatz, as a troubled but talented high school runner named Drew, doesn’t understand why the aging, alcoholic coach Coleman (Richard Jenkins) makes him perform all kinds of manual labor when he should be training him for the regional track meet. Among the grueling work that Drew is forced to endure: Sanding the coach’s dilapidated boat while coach himself sits back and enjoys yet another cigarette. “Wax on, wax off,” Coleman says with a wry smile.
Director Charles-Olivier Michaud and writers Josh Campbell and Jeff Van Wie use this rare moment of humor to say what we’re all thinking as viewers. Yet the filmmakers remain unrelenting in running through a checklist of genre conventions. There’s the good-hearted kid from the wrong side of the tracks, the mentor seeking his own redemption, the trash-talking competitor, the mom struggling to keep her family together and the sweetly supportive girlfriend. And the montages—oh, so many montages. “Even 'Rocky’ had a montage,” to quote a song from the great “Team America: World Police.”
Still, “4 Minute Mile” is efficient in its storytelling—which is fitting, given that it’s about a sprinter—and Jenkins and Blatz have solid chemistry with each other. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Jenkins enlivens this well-worn material through his sheer presence, his intelligent choices and the emotional truth he brings to even the most obvious scenes.