In the final analysis Secretariat ends up in the winner's circle. Packed with plenty of sugar - and in this case, a good helping of oats and hay - and when done by Disney, inspiring "true" stories tend to do that.
And then there's the story. Secretariat is arguably the greatest horse in horse racing history. In 1973, he won the vaunted triple crown: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. The horse set records in all three. Those records still stand today - 37 years later.
That feat alone is worth a movie.
Just do the races and the film is half-an-hour. More is required. Insert human element here. Diane Lane and John Malkovich help recreate history. She’s Penny Chenery, the horse’s steady-Eddie owner. He’s the quirky trainer. Malkovich and character actress Margo Martindale are charged with adding the compulsory comic relief.
The horse provides the action. His owner’s personal story provides the drama. A female owner shaking up the racing world was unheard of — even shocking — in 1973. Her place in that sexist world was at home with the husband and kids and tied to an apron. As various actors throw out sexist lines, Lane tries to sell the conflict with plenty of lip-chewing and stiff-necked stares.
The conflict never gets out of the starting gate.
However, when the film is about the horse, the challenge faced by Chenery and her trainer to win all three races, and their belief in Secretariat, the movie hits the daily double. Screenwriter Mike Rich ( Finding Forrester) and director Randall Wallace (who wrote Braveheart) offer plenty of nostalgia and uplift. A throwback to an era where Disney churned these things out by the dozen, you’ll cheer, you’ll laugh, and wish you’d brought a hanky.
There is, however, no photo finish.
5 stars/4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars / 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars / 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars / 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself