The Heart of a Boy. The Soul of a Champion.Two things: Zac Efron and Horses. That's the driving force behind this movie, which never saw theatres and was a direct-to-DVD release after High School Musical made Zac Efron the newest craze among teenage girls everywhere. If the producers could have realistically called the tagline: Zac Efron rides horses!!!!, they would have. Zac Efron + horses = crazy girl meltdown. At least, that's what was intended.
An alcoholic former horse-trainer perceives in a fifteen-year-old boy a unique gift of horsemanship and makes it possible for the boy to conceive his dream and pursue it.
The movie opens up with what looks like old clips of the Kentucky Derby. It's a packed racetrack, horses are running on a dirt track (this much is obvious) and then it tries to segue into sepia-toned new footage of a horse and rider racing over grass. All the while someone is talking about how he ran once in "the Derby" and won and something or another. It was amazingly garbled. In fact, there was a story in there somewhere, but all I caught was "the Derby" and "I won" before we meet our two main characters in present, non-sepia time.
Houston Jones (Bill Cobbs) is the man who won "the Derby." But now he's old, spends all of his time drinking something out of a flask, and imparting wise advice to Patrick (Zac Efron), who doesn't know what he wants to do despite being only fifteen. You see, Patrick's dad was a major league baseball player before being injured and becoming a full time dad who won't stop pressuring his son to be the major league player he wasn't. Patrick keeps deliberately skipping baseball practice to spend time with Houston, a fact that keeps worrying his parents because there's no telling what horrible influences Houston is having on their impressionable young son.
Meanwhile, we have Randy and his sidekick, who spend their time riding around on four wheelers, bashing mailboxes, and routinely destroying Houston's vegetable stand. Randy is the best steeplechase jockey in the county, although he always corrects everyone and says "best steeplechase jockey in the state!" Like this matters? County, state...you're in America. No one cares. Randy is sort of a blond version of what I think Joanna Campbell wanted Brad Townsend to be, and in that way I suppose she failed miserably because Randy's an asshole. For instance, I will let this clip speak for me:
Hell, why even bother with an entry at this point? Because Zac Efron is in this, rest assured that you can watch the whole movie on YouTube in ten minute segments. Nevertheless, I will continue. Anyway, Houston eventually buys this horse called Rusty and gives him to Patrick, who has decided he would really like to swap baseball practice for horseback riding. He quits the baseball team, much to his father's initial distress, and starts to work with Rusty instead. Houston quits drinking (he calls this habit "lubrication" and at one point refers to alcohol as "libations" so I sort of hate him), remarkably suffers no withdrawal symptoms, and starts to train Patrick to jump. Although his method is completely hands off. In fact, he sort of just stands there and mutters, "Good. A little better. *grumble grumble*" I don't see how this is helpful, but Patrick just blossoms and before you know it he's naturally skipping over four feet jumps. Although I should point out that he is totally not skipping over four feet jumps. Rusty the horse is a chestnut, so they keep showing shots of Patrick on the chestnut as he approaches a jump, and then the shot switches very suddenly to the bay legs of another horse doing the actual jumping. It's so noticeable I had to wonder what these people thought they were doing. After this they take Rusty to "the track" to "qualify" for the Derby Cup. Rusty qualifies and gets into the race and Patrick's father is excited because the winner gets a scholarship and I am so confused as to what this race is that I'm just going to ignore all of these weird details and move on.
So things are just going great until Houston has to confront Randy and his sidekick while they're routinely destroying his vegetable stand. Randy is obstinate as per the usual, and then Houston has a heart attack. Patrick and his sort of girlfriend find him, but Houston refuses treatment. They leave him in his house so he can pull out the picture of his dead girlfriend and die by himself. Patrick is crushed. They bury Houston to gospel music, alerting me for the first time that this movie takes place in the south. I think Zac Efron was even attempting a southern accent, but clearly that observation was a late one. Later on I finally noticed the track has a sign that says Atlanta, so hey. Atlanta. Who knew? At first I thought they were in Colorado.
Patrick goes through his stages of grief and refuses to ride Rusty. His sort of girlfriend gets pissed at him and goes to Houston's house to do something only to find that it is going to be foreclosed on by the county. I'm not sure if they meant foreclosed on by the bank or not, but whatever. So she goes into the house to get some things before the house is locked up and everything is taken to auction, finding a package meant for Patrick. The package contains Houston's old, but obviously completely new, racing silks. Patrick is touched and decides to enter the race! Only Randy has taken strides to make sure Patrick is not a problem and has sabotaged the truck. So Patrick's dad appears, fixes the truck, and off they go to the race.
And his blond sort of girlfriend makes out with him in front of his family. Nice. Then they rush up to the race official guy and she says that Patrick is "very qualified." Like, yeah. We know that, blond girl. Official guy lets them race and Patrick races and Randy tries to shove him off the horse but Rusty is too good for this and Patrick wins. Then Patrick puts the winning trophy on Houston's grave as we get more gospel music or whatever that was.
- The Derby Cup. I have issues with this whole event, because when is a race ever named Derby Cup?
- Rusty's name. It's a basic, plain horse name, but I love that all the other horses in the race have normal racehorse names except for Rusty. It made the race call pretty amusing.