Baseball, basketball, football… boat racing. While it’s not one of the premiere sports in America, the people of Madison, Indiana sure loved boat racing during the summer of 1971. As the town of Madison was dealing with layoffs and closures, the people looked to Jim McCormick (Jim Caviezel) and their boat, the Miss Madison, to be their saving grace.
Although it’s framed as a coming of age story, seen through the eyes of McCormick’s son, Mike (Jake Lloyd), Madison is a sports film through and throu…h. While it doesn’t come close to reaching the level of greatness that true story sports films like Eight Men Out, Hoosiers, and Rudy reached – Madison does occasionally score a moment or two of success, especially during the final race scene. Plus, the actors are professional, for the most part, and Bindley doesn’t get too fancy with the racing scenes.
However, the dial on my sports movie cliché-o-meter almost broke several times during the movie. All the small town people are presented without a flaw. The local bank stalls creditors so the town can come up with enough money to host the championship race. Hell, even the Mayor is portrayed as a saint. And since the Miss Madison is the only boat without a sponsor — it’s owned by the town, kinda like the Green Bay Packers — the corporate sponsored boating teams from the big city are the bad guys. What the filmmakers forgot was that flawed heroes are more interesting, even in simple, nostalgic sports movies such as this.
Jim Caviezel is workman-like as Jim McCormick, a boat racer who burned out after a crash killed his friend and left him badly injured. Now working as an air-conditioning repairman, Jim spends long nights down at the garage preparing the Miss Madison for her next race. I like Caviezel as an actor, but I got the feeling that pretty much any actor who can recite lines well enough would have done just as good a job.
Mary McCormack has the thankless role of the concerned wife – a cliché in and of itself – but McCormack is a trooper, playing Bonnie McCormick with an equal balance of frustration, nervousness and understanding. However, it would be nice if sports movies found something more for wives to do instead of looking nervous in crowd shots.
Jake Lloyd, so horrible in The Phantom Menace that George Lucas had to go back and re-edit some of his scenes with computer generated imagery, is better here but not by much. Whereas Haley Joel Osment plays these kinds of roles with professional ease, Lloyd flounders — giving odd facial expressions while his lines sound strange. It’s like he’s still not sure what to say even though it’s in the script.
While Madison does contain a certain small town charm, it’s slathered on as thick as King syrup. And it’s still a terribly clichéd sports movie about boat racing. Madison has been done before — and better — for pretty much every sport that exists. There is, after all, a reason why this movie was on the shelf for 4 years after it was completed, and then released shortly the spring of 2005. So unless boat racing is your thing, you may want to take a pass on Madison and check out something less familiar.
Madison is filmed in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture is sun-drenched to achieve boatloads of summer nostalgia, and it’s pretty to look at. There is no grain or pixelation whatsoever. Being a movie that is already 4 years old, Madison boasts a picture that rivals 2005 movies that are just being released on DVD.
I hoped the boat races filmed in Madison would give my home theater a work out. And while they didn’t, Madison’s Dolby Digital 5.1 track didn’t disappoint either. The boat racing scenes do contain some good low-frequency usage, especially when an engine is roaring to life or stalling out, and the surrounds see some action during the races, however it’s not as much as you would expect. Tunes from the era are probably this disc’s greatest asset as they are played regularly and sound great.
Beyond the Thunder – This is a 12 minute featurette that looks back at the real life story of Jim McCormick and Madison, Indiana in the summer of 1971. The featurette does a good job of showing us how the movie did get history right — even down to the Ray-Ban sunglasses that Caviezel wears in the movie.
While Madison is clichéd and at times a very simple film, it is enjoyable on some kind of comforting level. It probably won’t make you run out to learn all you can about boat racing, but it may slightly peak your interest. The disc looks and sounds good and the lone extra feature is informative. Madison doesn’t do anything new, and it doesn’t try to. The same can be said for the DVD. But that may also be its best quality.
Special Features List
- Beyond the Thunder Featurette