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Half a lap short

Michael Roark and Allison Paige in Bennett's War. (Sean Gunn)

Movie

Half a lap short

Motocross racing flick Bennett’s War doesn’t carry a promising start to the finish line

Sex, violence, and action sell movie tickets. An inspirational theme can also draw viewers to theater seats for a 90-minute escape, but into nobler realms. The first half-hour of the new film Bennett’s War allows for some modest expectations, but thereafter settles for a generic story.

Marshall Bennett (Michael Roark) was once a champion motocross (motorcycle on dirt track) racer. He enlists in the Army and is assigned to the motorcycle unit. After sustaining serious wounds on patrol in Afghanistan, he receives a medical discharge. Marshall returns to California where he, his wife Sophie (Allison Paige), and their young child live with his father Cal (Trace Adkins) on Cal’s farm. Marshall goes to work repairing motorcycle engines at the shop of a family friend, Cyrus (Ali Afshar, one of the film’s producers). Marshall also tries to help around the farm, which is facing foreclosure.

Early on, the film is more a study of Marshall and Sophie’s marriage than of motorcycle racing. They disagree about Marshall’s future: He dreams of returning to the racetrack, but she fears further injury might prevent him from ever walking again. They talk it out, sensitive to the other’s welfare and aspirations.

Marshall also rejects inappropriate advances from female fans. Bennett’s War is far from a faith film, but Marshall and Sophie’s commitment to each other beautifully models God’s design for marriage. The film includes two brief scenes portraying marital intimacy but does so without either spouse removing clothes. 

By today’s standards, the film is almost modest, which is probably why its PG-13 rating makes no mention of the sensuality (including several shots focused on revealing clothing) but warns only of brief violence and some bad language. At least two dozen expletives suggest “much” should replace “some,” but the film deserves kudos for the near absence of blasphemies—possibly one.

In another unexpected show of respect for God, in one scene the young family, Cal, and Cyrus pray around the dinner table. “We haven’t done this for a while,” Sophie says. They join hands, close their eyes, and offer a heartfelt prayer of gratitude to God.

One other noble realm: The film portrays Marshall as a man and father committed to providing for his family. He trains for a return to the pro circuit yet labors diligently at his unglamorous repair job. But all the human dramas—marriage, farm, an injured Army comrade—are left in the dust by a shift in focus to high-rev laps around a racetrack.

The motocross scenes are impressive, though. Shots from stationary cameras and drones show the track’s hairpin turns and monstrous hills. Stones and dirt spray up into cameras mounted on handlebars and rear fenders. And racers, twisting their bikes in a midair dance, defy gravity in soaring, slow-motion jumps. 

Aficionados will appreciate the authenticity: Many of the racing sequences were shot at the Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, Calif., and motocross racer and Hollywood stuntman Tony Panterra appears in the film, playing himself.

Still, I think many viewers would also have appreciated a sustained focus on the human stories.