It’s too bad the road to cinematic success isn’t paved with good intentions.
“Different Drummers” clearly wants to be a sweet and inspirational story, but myriad flaws leave it mired in “not ready for the silver screen” quality.
Based on the real life story of David Dahlke, “Different Drummers” focuses on the childhood friendship of a pair of grade-school boys in the early 1960s. Lyle Hatcher (Brayden Tucker) is a rambunctious, eager-eyed preteen with a knack for getting in trouble and a daydreaming eye for a cute girl in his class.
David (Ethan Reed McKay) is a soft-spoken, ponderous boy in a wheelchair, suffering from muscular dystrophy. When one of their teachers at school dies, the boys cross paths and start spending time together.
From here, a variety of plot lines keep the audience guessing as to the actual focus of the film. When David confesses to Lyle that God told him that their teacher was going to die, Lyle becomes obsessed with using divine intervention to heal his friend’s muscular dystrophy.
Lyle also decides to give David the chance to experience the sensation of running, and another subplot involves Lyle’s plan to raise money for muscular dystrophy research by walking on his hands at their school’s annual parents’ night function.
The boys also team up on an ill-fated science project, something to do with creating a bug collection featuring a Black Widow spider, but their efforts are undermined when the supposedly dead bugs “sober up” from the alcohol the boys used on them and scatter throughout Lyle’s house.
The hap-hazard nature of “Different Drummers” then takes a serious detour when Lyle is diagnosed with Minimal Brain Dysfunction (now understood as ADHD), and the school principal orders him onto some mysterious medication that leaves him lifeless and unresponsive in class. Here the tone of the film takes on an almost “Reefer Madness” vibe, and viewers not quite sure if a movie about faith is now supposed to be an anti-child medication statement.
Hatcher co-wrote and directed “Different Drummers” along with Don Caron, and that suggests that Hatcher was more interested in telling all of his story rather than one that would work onscreen.
Poor writing, acting and execution leaves “Different Drummers” impossible to justify. If the weak actors aren’t monotoning the standard lines of dialogue, the reasonable actors are stumbling their way through the muddled ones, and myriad cheesy and distracting music passages persistently undermine the whole lot.
The simple problem with “Different Drummers” is that it is playing out of its league. As a direct-to-video release, it would be passed over as a harmless, low-budget tribute to a boy who lived with muscular dystrophy 50 years ago. But at a major multiplex at near $10 a ticket, the film feels painfully out of place.
“Different Drummers” is rated PG for thematic elements, some mischief and brief smoking.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. More of his work is at woundedmosquito.com.