THE NEW HALLMARK MOVIE
Premieres Saturday, June 9,
9 PM on The Hallmark Channel;
also plays June 10 at 7 PM,
June 15 at 9 PM, June 16 at 5 PM
John Schneider, left, with
Dylan McLaughlin, working on a
soap box derby racer.
Here's a family movie with
lots of winning elements
By RON MILLER
If I started out telling you to be sure and watch this new made-for-TV movie about an orphaned boy who's building a racer for a soap box derby competition, I'm sure you'd say to yourself, "Well, he's finally lost it bigtime."
And if I went a little further and told you it stars that fine actor John Schneider, who used to play Bo Duke on "The Dukes of Hazzard," I imagine you'd add, "Maybe someone should ask his family to consider putting him away somewhere."
But then I've always been a rather contrary guy, so think what you will because I'm still going to suggest you watch "You've Got A Friend," which premieres Saturday night (June 9) on cable's The Hallmark Channel.
Right up front I have to confess I wouldn't watch another soap box derby movie on a bet. But, as it turns out, I didn't know it was going to have the soap box derby stuff in it until I was already enjoying the picture. And somehow the turn toward soap box derby stuff didn't ruin the movie for me.
And, yes, I spent a good deal of my professional career as a TV critic booing "The Dukes of Hazzard," which I thought was a dumb show for diddle-brains. I suppose I should admit that, in spite of my critical distaste for "Dukes," I always enjoyed watching Catherine Bach wearing her hillbilly short-shorts as Daisy Duke (and Jessica Simpson doing the same in the recent "Dukes" movie). In fact, as long as confessions are being registered, I almost said something immensely positive about "The Dukes of Hazzard" after the real Catherine Bach sat on my lap at a CBS press party in the early 1980s.
I never paid much attention to John Schneider in his "Dukes" days because I considered him just another Hollywood hunk with blond hair with no particular future. But then I spent much of a day with him on the set of CBS' "Stagecoach" remake in 1986, liked him quite a bit and discovered he was a serious actor longing for a chance to show what he could really do.
Since then, I've seen John in a number of pretty good films in which he definitely proved he had moved way beyond Bo Duke. If you watch him in "You've Got A Friend," you'll see what I mean. He brings real life to his character--a Vietnam vet whose grip on normal life has slowly slipped away from him, only to be restored by his involvement with a troubled 12-year-old boy.
John Schneider is excellent
as a reclusive man who needs
to restore his faith in himself
and the human race.
In the storyline of "You've Got A Friend," juvenile actor Dylan McLaughlin plays Bobby Graham, a 12-year-old whose parents have died, forcing him to move in with his aunt and uncle (Kate Conner, Jason Brooks) in Albuquerque, N.M., where his uncle runs a hardware store. The boy's father had been estranged from his brother for years, so Bobby really doesn't know his uncle at all.
Though Aunt Gayle, who has no children, looks forward to having Bobby move in, her husband isn't happy about it. Jeff always felt his brother wasted his life on his unfulfilled dream of becoming a professional race car driver. Meanwhile, Jeff took over the family business and frequently had to help his brother out. So, Jeff wants his nephew to grow up with practical notions, not the dreams he's sure his dad fed him while he was still alive.
Bobby's uncle Jeff also warns him to stay away from Jim Klecan (Schneider), who was a friend of Bobby's dad. Klecan was a national soap box derby winner as a kid, but he came back from the Vietnam war as a loser, a bearded recluse who makes a meager living as a handyman and lives boarded up behind a fence, sharing his life with nobody but his dog.
The early part of the movie deals with Bobby's problems adjusting to his new school, where the other kids pick on him. Even though he was a straight "A" student in San Diego, he can't seem to finish any assignments his teacher, Miss Nelson (Bitty Schram) gives him. Forced to work in the hardware store after school every day, Bobby spends his only free time going over the plans and drawings he made with his dad for a soap box derby racer.
Once Bobby manages to befriend the hostile and rude Jim Klecan, we begin to understand how much better off Bobby would be with a dad who encourages his dreams than one like his uncle, who thinks dreams are harmful, or like some of the fathers of the other kids in town, who are trying to live their own thwarted dreams through their kids.
Ultimately, "You've Got A Friend" is about rehabilitation. Bobby needs to get back on the stable track he was on before his parents died. Jim needs to restore his faith in the human race and his own role in it. Jeff needs to get over his past resentments and find a new direction for his life.
That's where the local soap box derby contest comes in, providing a way for everybody to either start or complete the healing process and come up with new lives.
The McLaughlin boy, who's in the current theatrical film "Georgia Rule," is an appealing kid and he seems to get what his character is all about, despite his youth. Schneider is extremely strong, making his Jim character the lynchpin of the whole story and doing it quite convincingly. Bitty Schram, best known for playing the quirky Sharona on TV's "Monk" series, makes a very likeable teacher and even juvenile player Chase Ellison, who plays Bobby's derby rival "Tommy," turns in a very credible performance.
Okay, it's true "You've Got A Friend" does have that comfy "feel good" flavor of so many Hallmark TV movies, but it's not so bad that you want to gag on it. What's so bad about feeling good at the end of a movie anyway? I think you'll identify with these people and you'll want things to work out for them, so enjoy it while you can.
©2007 by Ron Miller. The photos are courtesy of The Hallmark Channel. This column first posted June 4, 2007.
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