Film review: 'Saint Ralph' is merely mediocre

Published: Friday, Aug. 26 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

SAINT RALPH — ** — Adam Butcher, Campbell Scott, Gordon Pinsent; rated PG-13 (vulgarity, sex, profanity, violence, brief partial nudity).

The title character of "Saint Ralph" believes he is, in his own words, "destined for greatness." Unfortunately, the film itself doesn't come close to greatness. Instead, it settles for mediocrity.

The comic aspects of this comedy-drama are overly broad and forced, while the supposedly dramatic ones are cloying and treacly. Worse, screenwriter/director Michael McGowan tries to fuse these two disparate sides together, even though it's a bad fit.

For a film that was apparently intended for families or all-age audiences, this one is surprisingly frank in its depiction of early teen sexuality. It's as obsessed with sex as its main character — Ralph Walker (Adam Butcher), a ninth-grader at a religious school in Canada during the 1950s.

Ralph is constantly in trouble and is on the verge of being expelled by the school's headmaster, Father Fitzpatrick (Gordon Pinsent). But then Ralph becomes convinced he's received a divine message exhorting him to enter the Boston Marathon.

The boy believes if he races and wins, his mother (Shauna MacDonald) will awake from her coma and fully recover. But he has trouble convincing his friends that he's about to perform a "miracle."

That doesn't stop him from enlisting the school's cross-country instructor, Father Hibbert (Campbell Scott), from coaching him, or from seeking spiritual counseling from the devout Claire Collins (Tamara Hope).

Filmmaker McGowan is a former long-distance runner himself, and he drew on some of his experiences here.

Despite a couple of slight twists, though, his plotting is fairly predictable and the sexual material is in pretty bad taste. And frankly, a few of the supporting characters are more interesting than the main one.

As a conflicted priest, Scott has a likable, low-key presence, while Jennifer Tilly steals a couple of scenes as a sympathetic nurse taking care of Ralph's mother.

To be fair, Butcher's at-times awkward and stiff performance can be attributed to nerves (he is a newcomer, after all).

"Saint Ralph" is rated PG-13 for sexual references and vulgar sexual humor (including an extended sight gag), simulated sexual contact, scattered use of profanity (mostly religiously based), violence (mostly slapstick in nature), and brief, partial nudity (a female backside). Running time: 98 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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