'He's Not a Horse. He's Secretariat!'

Horses make lousy protagonists, what with their inability to speak, emote, or do much of anything but run or stand around. No surprise, then, that Secretariatemploys its subject as merely a vehicle for a human-victory-over-adversity story, which, in this based-on-real-events case, involves owner Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) triumphing against the chauvinistic “old boys”—and, in the process, setting a proto-feminist example for her hippie daughter—by leading Secretariat to Triple Crown glory. Sexism and classism are the twin hurdles leaped by feisty Penny and her plaid-hat-wearing trainer, Lucien Laurin (a hammy John Malkovich). Along the way, director Randall Wallace goes overboard with mawkish deification: The stallion makes his intro in slow motion set to narration about the biblical tale of Job, is later visualized emerging from roiling storm clouds like a divine steed, and is exalted by Malkovich with the trailer-ready proclamation, “He’s not a horse. He’s Secretariat!” As befitting a Disney period-piece sports drama, cutaways to sunset horizons are plentiful, and social issues of the day are glibly addressed via hoary platitudes. At least the formulaic race footage itself is vigorous; the schmaltzy mythmaking script, on the other hand, deserves a one-way trip to the glue factory.

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