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SECRETARIAT (director: Randall Wallace; screenwriters: Mike Rich/suggested by the book “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion” by William Nack; cinematographer: Dean Semler; editor: John Wright; music: Nick Glennie-Smith; cast: Diane Lane (Penny Chenery), John Malkovich (Lucien Laurin), Dylan Walsh (Jack Tweedy), Dylan Baker (Hollis Chenery), Margo Martindale (Miss Ham), Nelsan Ellis (Eddie Sweat), Otto Thorwarth (Ronnie Turcotte), Fred Dalton Thompson (Bull Hancock), James Cromwell (Ogden Phillips), Amanda Michalka (Kate Tweedy), Carissa Capobianco (Sarah Tweedy), Scott Glenn (Chris Chenery); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Gordon Gray/Mark Ciardi;Walt Disney Pictures; 2010)
“Strictly a movie for those who bet chalk.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Randall Wallace (“The Man in the Iron Mask”/”We Were Soldiers“) directs an inspirational horse biopic about the greatest ever racehorse, Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner. His direction keeps things routine and always crowd-pleasing lite, and never questions a thing about the Sport of Kings and the swells who are the horse owners in it for the prestige, money and satisfaction of being winners. The Disney movie provides good family entertainment, is well-crafted, and has terrific racing scenes; but, it’s predictable, filmed by the numbers and is too pat to be interesting. This is strictly a movie for those who bet chalk and the tame Brady Bunch crowd, and if that’s your cup of tea then you’ll find this pic delicious.

Spunky Denver housewife Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Ladd) in 1969 takes control of her father’s failing Virginia Meadow Stable horse-breeding ranch when her mom dies and dad suffers from dementia and her brother Hollis Chenery (Dylan Baker), a droll Harvard economics professor, wants to sell. Penny, despite losing a coin toss, to the wealthy racing man Ogden Phipps (James Cromwell), believes the horse sired by Phipps’ Bold Ruler and foaled with her mare Somethingroyal– the second choice colt– is the one who will be a champion because the red chestnut colt was sired for speed and stamina. Penny’s father’s horseman friend Bull Hancock (Fred Dalton Thompson) recommends Penny hire the eccentric French-Canadian trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), a rascal known for wearing flashy outfits and outrageous hats and, in spite of that, being a good trainer beset by some hard luck and prematurely retired. The trainer comes out of retirement and brings on the daring experienced Canadian jockey Ron Turcotte (Otto Thorwarth, real-life jockey); the loyal long-time Meadow Stable secretary Miss Ham (Margo Martindale) renames the horse when the name Big Red and ten others are not accepted by the Jockey Club; Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis) is the dedicated groom; and Penny’s lawyer husband Jack Tweedy (Dylan Walsh) is the flustered spouse who resents his wife devoting herself to Secretariat but finally relents just before the prized horse, with the big heart, wins the Belmont Stakes by a record 31 lengths in a five-horse race where there was no show betting and Secretariat went off as 1-10 favorite.

Mike Rich’s adequate but unrealistic squeaky-clean screenplay is based onthe book “Secretariat: The Making of a Champion” by William Nack.

I was a racehorse fan during the 1970s and my favorite Aqueduct jockeys were Turcotte, Bobby Ussery and Angel Cordero–all great riders with great courage, who helped me win some money because of their bold riding skills. Watching Turcotte ride, brought back some touching memories (the best reason I have for seeing the pic). Ladd’s performance is a Blind Side-like moving one as the mother of four, who tries to be there for her two young sons and her 2 teenage daughters (Amanda Michalka & Carissa Capobianco), who are busy protesting the Vietnam War (dramatized in an annoying strident way), and as a woman trying to make it in a man’s world while trying to deal with the tension of placing her family’s fortune in jeopardy by her belief in Secretariat to make her a winner and save her from bankruptcy. It’s a rather sweet, gooey, moving and simplistic performance, which emulates the pic. But at least the jockey didn’t fall off Secretariat before he crossed the finish line, which was good enough a reason for this former punter to bet on this safe film for place.

REVIEWED ON 10/11/2010 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”