There's something surreal about a low-budget indie compulsively aping generic Hollywood narratives; like a video of a dog driving a car, something feels unnervingly out of place. Such is the experience of watching 50 to 1, a paint-by-numbers telling of the story of Mine That Bird, the long shot racehorse that won the 2009 Kentucky Derby. The film is replete with the washed-up trainer, Chip (Skeet Ulrich); the hotshot cowboy owner, Mark (Christian Kane); the crotchety old naysayer, Doc (William Devane); and the spunky assistant, Alex (Madelyn Deutch).
The characters' feelings are as unsubtly drawn as their personae; in most of his scenes, Doc's given little to do other than repeat that Mark's hiring Chip was a mistake. Chip, for his part, might as well be given a giant blinking sign with the words "Needs Redemption" on it -- he's broke, and at one point his brother tells him that Mine That Bird is all Chip's got. The manner in which 50 to 1 creates sympathy for its characters is so nakedly manipulative that it's difficult to become invested. Broad-strokes storytelling persists throughout: In another scene, Chip and Alex go on a road trip, which commences with the duo fighting over the radio. Could there be a more obvious way to convey that their personalities clash? While the film isn't without charming moments -- the Derby sequence is entertaining -- the lack of narrative sophistication grates.