’23 Blast’: Football drama follows worn-out playbook

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Based on a true story, “23 Blast” chronicles the life of Travis Freeman, an athletically gifted Kentucky teen whose life is off to a great start. Along with being the star of his Corbin High School football team, Travis is also a good student and the anchor of his close-knit group of friends.

Then a terrible, unfathomable thing changes Travis’ life forever. An infection that started in his sinuses quickly moves to destroy his optic nerve — rendering him permanently blind.

Veteran actor Dylan Baker has chosen this project for his directorial debut, based on a screenplay co-penned by Corbin, Kentucky, native and actor Bram Hoover, who plays Travis Freeman’s fun-loving, screw-up best friend Jerry Baker, the football team’s quarterback.

The film works hard — too hard — to pull at our heartstrings. It is understandable that Travis was so devastated by his diagnosis that he became a virtual recluse in his bedroom. However, that note is played over and over as we are subjected to scene after scene of melodrama until — Surprise! Surprise! — Travis is made to realize he had better buck up and move on with his life.

Frankly, “23 Blast” comes off as the kind of film that likely would have found a good home on something like the Hallmark Channel.

The message of inspiration is strong and certainly qualifies as solid family entertainment. I only wish there were fewer trite truisms scattered throughout the script and less predictable dialogue for the solid troupe of actors to deliver.

RELATED: Actor Dylan Baker makes directing debut with “23 Blast”

Stephen Lang does a good job portraying the high school football coach who risks his own career to give Travis a new chance at regaining his self-respect and that of his community, team, family and friends.

Mark Hapka is believable as Travis and quite convincing in portraying a young man suddenly struck blind. Hoover also is on track playing the loose cannon on the team who Travis never abandoned, even after Baker’s short-fuse temper and repeated mistakes had the rest of the community writing him off.

Unfortunately, Timothy Busfield’s portrayal of the school’s athletic director is quite a bit over-the-top and frequently too much of an example of over-acting.

One intriguing twist is how the real Travis Freeman is worked into the storyline of the film. That was one surprise I didn’t see coming, and it adds a nice grace note to the overall film.

[s3r star=2.5/4]

Ocean Avenue Entertainment presents a film directed by Dylan Baker and written by Bram and Toni Hoover. Running time: 98 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for some teen drinking). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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