3 stars (out of 4)
Loosely based on a true story, "Madison" tells the familiar tale of a small town struggling with a waning primary industry (here, river transportation) that seeks respect through athletic enterprise (hydroplane boat racing)think "Hoosiers" or "Breaking Away," but with boats.
Set in 1971 Madison, Ind., a once-thriving Ohio River port about midway between Cincinnati and Louisville, it stars James Caviezel ("The Passion of the Christ") as Jim McCormick, an air-conditioning repairman and once-promising hydroplane boat pilot. McCormick climbed out of the pilot seat after a bad wreck but became part of the shore crew for the Miss Madison, a town-owned hydroplane boat. Now past its prime, but once a champion-caliber craft, Miss Madison remains a point of pride for the townsfolk who gather to watch its sputtering test runs as the crew labors to make it competitive.
Filmed in 2001, the obstacles that appear in McCormick's life were probably good practice for Caviezel's turn as Jesus. He doesn't get scourged by Romans, though the requisite bad guysan arrogant and well-funded Budweiser team (they install a new engine before each race, while the Madison gang must scavenge parts)probably would've happily picked up a whip if given the chance. Instead, McCormick's raft of hurdles include wife Bonnie's (Mary McCormack, "K-PAX") desire to flee the sinking town, a boat-shattering mishap with a speed-boosting secret weapon from engine guru Harry Volpi (Bruce Dern, "The Cowboys") and driver problems that thrust him into the pilot seat.
Why all the concern about a boat race? In a moment of community pride, McCormick accepted hosting duties for a championship regatta, using a blank check the mayor (Paul Dooley, "Breaking Away") gave him for an emergencyas long as it's less than $200to put up the $50,000 required to secure the event.
Thanks to a little subterfuge at a town meeting, McCormick manages to get the town to rally behind the regatta. Creative check processing from the town bank buys time to raise money. And Volpi returns to Madison from Florida to help with the secret weapon.
The story is told through the eyes of McCormick's son Mike (Jake Lloyd, "Star Wars: Episode IThe Phantom Menace"despite his pod-racing experience, he's not tapped for the cockpit), who gets to tag along to several big-city regattas. Caviezel and McCormack manage to portray the stress-filled lives of the McCormicks with a low-key intensity that underscores the couples' frustrations and anxieties. The result is a feeling of quiet heroismpeople doing things because it's right to do them, even if it's not easythat fires a hope for them to succeed.
That aside, it's easy to cheer for McCormick and Miss Madison to pull out a victory in the home stretch of the championship race. Salvation of humanity might not be on the line, but the soul of a family, a town and a way of life just might be.
Directed by William Bindley; screenplay by William Bindley and Scott Bindley; photographed by James Glennon; edited by William Hoy; production design by Dorian Vernacchio and Deborah Raymond; produced by Martin Wiley. An Addison Street Films release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:38. MPAA rating: PG (Some mild language and sports peril).
Jim McCormick - James Caviezel
Bonnie McCormick - Mary McCormack
Mike McCormick - Jake Lloyd
Mayor Don Vaughn - Paul Dooley
Harry Volpi - Bruce Dern
Skip - Reed Diamond
Buddy - Richard Lee Jackson
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