FOREVER STRONG — *** — Sean Faris, Gary Cole, Neal McDonough; rated PG-13 (violence, drugs, vulgarity, slurs, brief gore)

"Forever Strong" is the slickest, most polished film that has emerged from a recent glut of locally produced features.

It's also the best of this group, in terms of quality — and that's not just by a little bit either. While it does boast some of the expected tropes and formulas of cinematic sports dramas, it's a competent, entertaining and involving movie that features a decent message about self-discipline and redemption.

And perhaps more surprising is the fact that it looks this good, despite being produced on a budget that was less than $10 million. (A mere pittance by Hollywood standards.)

"Forever Strong" is one of the mottos of the Highland Rugby of Utah team, a nationally recognized program that is portrayed fictionally in this tale.

Sean Faris ("Never Back Down") stars as Rick Penning, a talented but self-destructive Arizona high school athlete who gets into an alcohol-fueled car accident.

Rick, who was behind the wheel, is lucky not to be imprisoned. Instead, he winds up at a juvenile detention center, run by the sympathetic Marcus (Sean Astin).

He even offers the embittered Rick a chance at redemption. Marcus has talked with Highland High coach Larry Gelwix (Gary Cole), who will allow him to join the team — so long as he follows the program's strict rules and personal responsibility regulations.

In the meantime, Rick's coach father (Neal McDonough) has become resentful — he's been neglecting his son so far but has discovered he's playing with his biggest rival.

This is another impressive step forward in the career of LDS filmmaker Ryan Little (2003's "Saints and Soldiers"). The cast is good enough to bail him and screenwriter David Pliler out when things gets a little sticky, though.

Faris's character is a little too cocky at times, but Cole — who usually plays either comic or villainous characters — is appealing as his surrogate father figure.

The fine supporting cast includes not only Astin and McDonough, but also Julie Warner and local personality Leroy "Big Budah" Teo, who plays Rick's "keeper" in the detention center.

"Forever Strong" is rated PG-13 for some strong scenes of violence, most of it athletically based (as well as some implied vehicular mayhem), drug content and references (painkillers), scenes of teen drinking and abuse, some suggestive language and references, derogatory slurs and other terms of derisions, and some brief bloody moments. Running time: 110 minutes.

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