When a film is based on a true story, by definition, many already know the basic plot going in. It's essentially summed up in the first line of this review. Thus the challenge of the filmmakers is to create a new layer of excitement and interest on top of what is known. How is this done? First, write a good script. The team of Bill Mikita, Cris D'Annunzio, and director Greg Lanesey did just that. Next, find actors who will flesh it out and see this vision through.
Trevor Morgan is Mickey (based on writer Bill Mikita), the teen inspired to be in the stands when the momentous event occurs, no matter where or when. Morgan's ability to keep a thin veil of strength and confidence over an inner sensitivity and childlike innocence is second to none. Rory Culkin is Roger, the muscular dystrophy-afflicted little brother whose toughness perhaps even surpasses that of Mickey. It's that quality in Culkin's performance, combined with the vulnerability which Morgan imparts to the physically healthy older brother, which is at the heart of the curious dynamic which drives the film. Who is leading whom? Ray Liotta heads up the multitude of veterans who populate Chasing 3000. As the present-day version of Mickey, he bookends the film and provides an uncharacteristically loving father figure to his own two children, for whom this story is now family legend. As in any good road movie, the boys will encounter a deliciously diverse group of characters along the way, and M. Emmet Walsh does a star turn as the old codger with a heart of gold who provides some of the film's most poignant moments (and there are many).
The production values are surprisingly topnotch for an independent film. Denis Maloney's cinematography highlights the irony of Roger's limiting wheelchair existence with the limitless possibilities opened up by cross-country travel on a whim. Sweeping landscapes combine with the Lawrence Shragge score to coax open those tear ducts. And somehow the filmmakers were able to find locations within the Los Angeles area which mimic every stop along the way, from St. Louis to the Deep South to Pittsburgh. The film just looks and sounds right - they covered every base.
More than anything, it's about the special love that only exists between brothers at a time in their lives when they need each other the most. In the 80s, The Cure sang "Boys Don't Cry." But no doubt they will in the local cinema. Chasing 3000 is a tearjerker for guys in the guise of a sports movie. But shhh...don't tell them that. And yes, there's plenty for the ladies to like as well. There were more than a few sighs in the audience now and then at the World Premiere here at the Tribeca Film Festival. Maybe it was the baseball uniforms.
So take the family. Chasing 3000 has something for everyone. This is one of those rare films that has the potential to be universally affecting. Like Rocky and Rudy, Chasing 3000 is destined to be what seems to be missing in cinema today, a good old-fashioned feel-good movie that can make even the cynics smile. And maybe shed a tear as well.