Some true stories shouldn’t be made into movies.
The power and resonance of a true tale doesn’t always translate well to the screen, losing the impact of its story and thus becoming stale. Or they can just come off as silly and unintentionally funny.
Breakthrough, directed by Roxann Dawson with a paint-by-numbers brush, details the near death experience of the then 14-year-old John Smith. The kid burst through a sheet of ice in Lake St. Louis while playing with his friends, and was under ice cold water long enough to lose a pulse at the hospital and die…for an hour.
John’s mom, Joyce (Chrissy Metz from NBC’s This Is Us), a devout Christian, prayed to God to bring back her son from the dead. Supported by her husband (Josh Lucas), young priest (Topher Grace), and one of the best doctors in the world (Dennis Haysbert), Joyce prayed and prayed.
“God saved my son,” Joyce proclaimed. Ladies and gentlemen, let me save you from this movie.
While the story is sincere, the movie is just not good. The performances are borderline laughable, especially Lucas whenever he tries to emote. Haysbert, a solid actor who has dipped his toes in several areas of the cinematic water, seems to be reading lines while half-asleep, like a freshman in a school play. Metz, so good on the hit television series, does hardcore melodrama for two straight hours, wrestling with a slight Southern accent. Grace, who doesn’t seem to age, gets a chuckle or two. Marcel Ruiz, who plays John, is underwhelming. Keep a lookout for Mike Colter (Luke Cage) as a cynical firefighter who makes a heroic save.
The writing, direction, and production design make this movie come off as a religious hour of Grey’s Anatomy. There’s nothing great or memorable about it. You know where the story is going, and while the characters seem to be giving all the credit to some invisible being, I wanted to shout, “what about the doctors, nurses, and surgeons?!?”
Let me explain myself a little before you hurl a bible at me. My son, Vincent, battled a deadly condition when he was a kid. The hard work of doctors and nurses saved my son. Begging the big dude upstairs for a pardon wouldn’t have done the trick, so when I watch this film, I roll my eyes a little. I just don’t believe it.
Look, this movie is as critic-proof as they come. If you believe in the divine and his powers, Breakthrough will go down like a batch of kettle corn. If you don’t, this will come off as amateur comedy that goes down like a warm Diet Coke. It’s a triumphant story, but the players and makers here don’t turn it into anything resembling a worthy watch. I’m not even sure a documentary would have been better. Just read the story, smile a little, and scroll on.
I’m glad John Smith is alive and thriving. Many people fall through the ice and don’t make it out alive. But I didn’t find him or his family interesting enough to get over the huge hook of the story, which is drowning in religious overtones.
There’s better movies out there that will give you a better escape.
Let me heal your movie-watching decision process by having you steer clear of Breakthrough.