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With: Jeffrey Donovan, Samantha Mathis, Bruce Dern, Bob Gunton, Heather Matarazzo, Alicia Lagano, Diana Taurasi, Kristin Brye, Jamie Dickerson, Brandi Engel, Anne Judson-Yager, Alicia Lagano, Martha McGonagle, Michele Nordin, Robyn Reede, Chloe Russell, Kerbey Smith
Written by: Robert Collector
Directed by: Robert Collector
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild thematic elements and language
Running Time: 108
Date: 03/19/2013

Believe in Me (2007)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Basket Case

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Believe in Me is not much different from Miracle, Glory Road, Coach Carter, Gridiron Gang, We Are Marshall, the new Pride, and other recent inspirational sports dramas. A radical new coach descends upon a repressed, conservative small town, reluctantly takes on a ragtag team of losers, and whips them into shape just in time to win the state championship, all the while dealing with personal issues and maybe a stock bad guy, a sourpuss who for whatever reason can't wait to see the team lose.

This time, the story involves an all-girl basketball team in Oklahoma in 1964 and 1965. Jeffrey Donovan (Hitch) stars as the hapless coach Clay Driscoll (based on real hall-of-fame coach Jim Keith) who reluctantly takes on the job of coaching the girls. The girls, of course, have barely ever won a game, much less a championship. At first, he half-heartedly runs them through some drills, but his clever wife Jean (Samantha Mathis) provides some crucial pointers on how to deal with small town lasses.

Bruce Dern (currently in The Astronaut Farmer) plays bad guy Ellis Brawley, a Dick Cheney-type whose money and connections puts him in charge of everybody and everything in the town. Sadly, Collector paints him as one-dimensionally curdled, out to ruin everyone else's fun without the slightest hint of a reason or a driving force.

All gripes aside, writer/director Robert Collector packs Believe in Me with an irresistible earnestness. If the IMDB is to be believed, the writer/director Robert Collector has amassed an unusual and curious collection of credits, all in the lower regions of "B" movie making. His previous directorial efforts include Red Heat (1985), a Linda Blair women-in-prison film, and Nightflyers (1987), a sci-fi horror movie not unlike Alien. His writing credits include Jungle Warriors (1984) and John Carpenter's Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992). It's an odd leap, from these drive-in movies to Believe in Me, but Collector brings that inventive, thrifty, B-movie spirit with him.

The director shoots the basketball sequences exactly right, with jumpy clarity. He guides the games with just the right balance of amateur awkwardness; unlike the other Hollywood movies, these athletes are far from highly polished pros. He edits well, incorporating the ticking clock and shots of the evil opposing team and their constant, unpunished fouls. Collector's major sin is the annoying game announcer that continually babbles about "these scrappy underdogs from Middleton!"

Likewise, Collector can't resist a few cloying, motivational speeches from time to time, but overall, he comes in nicely under the radar, avoiding most of the typical side effects of this genre. It's not exactly a game-winning three-pointer, but it's at least the equivalent of a free throw -- and Collector sinks it.

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