‘Mighty Macs’: Oooo, a nice shot bounces off the rim

As far as in­spir­a­tion­al stor­ies go, The Mighty Macs is a slam dunk. It’s a good one about a fe­male bas­ket­ball team that plenty of Phil­adelphi­ans have prob­ably heard of over the years.

As far as movies go, though, this one doesn’t quite make it to the na­tion­al cham­pi­on­ship.

As it stands now, The Mighty Macs doesn’t have enough oomph to ap­peal to a broad audi­ence bey­ond those folks with ties to Im­macu­lata Uni­versity or wo­men’s bas­ket­ball. But this real-life tale with loc­al roots does provide some in­spir­a­tion­al mo­ments that can teach today’s young­sters a les­son or two. 

In my humble opin­ion, call­ing it The Cathy Rush Movie would be a more fit­ting title for The Mighty Macs. It’s 1971 and Rush (played by Carla Gu­gino), the wife of NBA ref Ed Rush (Dav­id Boreanaz, mar­gin­al­ized with a few for­get­table lines), is not con­tent to sit at home and pre­tend to be a happy house­wife while her hus­band is on the road. 

Rush’s pas­sion is bas­ket­ball, and she ac­cepts a job to coach the bas­ket­ball team at tiny, all-wo­men Im­macu­lata Col­lege (now a uni­versity) in the small Chester County town.

This ’71 team — which ex­is­ted a year be­fore the fed­er­al Title IX edu­ca­tion amend­ment that par­tic­u­larly be­nefited wo­men and school ath­let­ics — has no play­ers. It also has no gym, no fans, not even gasp-worthy dresses for uni­forms. So Rush pulls a team to­geth­er, finds a place to prac­tice and is aided by Sis­ter Sunday (Mar­ley Shelton), who agrees to be her as­sist­ant coach.

They lose big at first. But even­tu­ally, un­der Rush’s guid­ance, the Im­macu­lata wo­men rise from nobod­ies to na­tion­al cham­pi­ons three years in a row.

None of the girls on the team had par­tic­u­larly com­pel­ling stor­ies (one play­er is des­pond­ent for a bit after break­ing up with her boy­friend … hey, get over it). In fact, I’m hard-pressed to even re­mem­ber any of the ath­letes’ names, just the mont­age at the end that showed many of Rush’s play­ers who went on to be suc­cess­ful coaches. Only Cathy Rush and Sis­ter Sunday (a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter) made any sort of mem­or­able im­pact in the film. An en­ter­tain­ing scene of the two be­ing hit on at a bar made for one of the rare off-the-court scenes. 

An­oth­er storyline fo­cused on Im­macu­lata’s money prob­lems and how the school was on the brink of clos­ure (big clich&ea­cute;). Moth­er St. John (El­len Burstyn) is the “old guard” at the school who min­im­izes Rush’s at­tempts to breathe life in­to ath­let­ics at Im­macu­lata.

The Mighty Macs has been on the shelf for a few years —it was filmed in 2007. Writer-dir­ect­or Tim Cham­bers fought hard to keep his fam­ily-friendly movie’s “G” rat­ing. I see The Mighty Macs as the kind of movie that kids in school will watch when a sub fills in for the day, or it’ll be shown to youth bas­ket­ball teams for mo­tiv­a­tion. 

On the plus side, it’s fairly en­ter­tain­ing and tells a good story without feel­ing overly preachy, as many films with re­li­gious over­tones tend to be. It’s also nice to see a fe­male sports team cel­eb­rated; too many of these films give guys all the glory.

The pluses of this movie, though, are neut­ral­ized by some neg­at­ives. It’s clich&ea­cute;d. There is little sus­pense. And even the on-the-court scenes lack im­pact.

Every year around March Mad­ness/Fi­nal Four time, we hear the Cinder­ella story of the team from some no-name school that over­came ex­treme obstacles to get to the big dance. There­fore, it’s not that the story is too good to be true.

These kinds of stor­ies seem to hap­pen at least once a year. And that’s pre­cisely the prob­lem. ••

Movie Grade: B-

You can reach at shorbrook@bsmphilly.com.

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