Here’s a priceless chunk of dialogue, spoken between a pair of friends/rivals on 23 Blast‘s high school football team: “It is so easy for you!” one boy shouts, shirtless and sculpted and chest-depilated, from the back of a rusted-out pickup truck. “Easy?” his teammate shoots back. “I’m blind!” And he is.
This gentle-souled, based-on-a-true-story Christly sports feature dramatizes the unlikely return to the gridiron of nice guy Travis Freeman (Mark Hapka), a promising player who loses his eyesight but still gets to take the field for the big game’s last play. Risible as that may sound, Dylan Baker’s film bests larger-budgeted fare like When the Game Stands Tall thanks to ace acting, a humble spirit, and all-around sturdy craftsmanship. It’s also a great relief for onscreen tackles, just this once, to sound like actual tackles, a small thudding of body on grass, rather than car crashes.
The teen leads look a bit old for their roles, but Hapka acts out his blindness with effective rage/confusion/resolve, and Becky Ann Baker (of Freaks and Geeks greatness) is marvelous as the therapist who won’t let him slide into despair. The real Freeman turns up as a preacher urging parishioners — and viewers — into a thought experiment about what blindness might actually be like.
Not all of the story’s beats quite connect to each other, the dialogue is often ridiculous, and during crowd scenes and football games the production’s cost-saving compromises are distractingly apparent. But it’s still an honest piece of work, and sometimes a touching one.