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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Father Hibbert: I'll coach you only on one condition: you promise never to mention anything about miracles.
DVD ReviewSaint Ralph is a gem of a movie. It's simple story and old-fashioned filmmaking work to create an intimate comedy, filled with a sense of enchantment and sentiment. Writer-director Michael McGowan succeeds on almost every level, breathing fresh air into the familiar setting of a young boy growing up in a Catholic neighborhood.
Ralph Walker (Adam Butcher) is a 14-year-old troublemaker at Saint Magnus High School, confessing on a weekly basis an amount of sins that would make Jenna Jameson blush. There's a lot of zeal in McGowan's portrayal of youthful lust, from an inventive scene with Ralph and a lawnmower to endearing scenes of him courting local beauty Claire (Tamara Hope), who plans to become a nun. Perhaps he will become a saint on the level of Augustine some day, but right now he's still outlining his own Confessions. One day, however, Ralph's antics go too far at a public pool and he finds himself in hot water with the school's principal, the austere Father Fitzpatrick (Gordon Pinsent), and is forced to join the cross-country team to aide his excess of physical prowess. Ralph laments his punishment and seems unable to break his cycle of bad behavior until the day his widowed mother falls into a coma. The comforting nurse, Alice (Jennifer Tilly), explains that it will take a miracle to awaken his mom. Thus, Ralph begins to turn his life around.
Searching high and low for a miracle, Ralph finds one at cross-country practice when his coach, the Nietzsche-reading Father Hibbert (Campbell Scott), alludes to the Boston Marathon. Before long, God (dressed as Santa Claus, oddly enough) appears to Ralph and tells him to win the marathon and he'll achieve a miracle. Now begins an uplifting, tender story of a young man learning to deal with life's problems and maturing in his interactions with the others around him. It isn't always a smooth journey, but with the help of Father Hibbert and Claire, Ralph is able to break through his barriers, both physical and spiritual, and race in an exciting climax. This isn't a cheesy "everybody learns a lesson" story, but a surprisingly astute look at male adolescence—complete with a young man's dodgy ideas of how to cheat Purgatory and woo a woman.
Set in a pre-Vatican II era, McGowan's script makes good use of Catholic guilt as a means of motivating the characters and delighting the audience. A rather amusing scene comes when Ralph tries to win Claire over at Maundy Thursday Mass. McGowan also uses the pairing of Fathers Fitzpatrick and Hibbert quite nicely, showing the priesthood in a refreshing bright light. The formula of coupling an aging, stern priest with a young, free-spirited one has been done many times before, but I'm a sucker for it. Each actor is effective in his role, especially Adam Butcher, who captures a surprisingly large range of emotion as Ralph moves from hormones to fear to heartbreak during the movie's 98 minutes.
Unfortunately, the film's third act isn't as successful as the first two. There is a major occurrence during the latter third that feels too cinematic and left a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. Additionally, McGowan's choice of playing recent songs on the soundtrack is slightly jarring, especially since the songs don't mesh well with the original score. Yet, he moves the story along efficiently, allowing for nice character moments between Ralph and Father Hibbert, and allows the movie's themes of faith, love, and charity to develop naturally.
Saint Ralph is a warm movie that made me laugh and came within an inch of making me cry.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer looks nice, with a strong filmlike look and good sense of depth to the image. The picture is a bit soft at times, though this could be the cinematographer's original intention. Otherwise, contrast is solid, colors look sharp, and detail is noteworthy.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix soars when the musical score kick in, with the front sounds stage and rear channels being utilized to create an engaging experience. Otherwise, this is a front-heavy mix (fittingly so, however) with minor instances of sound separation and directionality. It's not especially dynamic, but works well with the film's tone.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Gospel, USS Poseidon: Phantom Below, Sueña
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Michael McGowan
Layers Switch: 01h:02m:29s
Extras Review: Extras are light and thin, unfortunately. Prior to the main menu, there are trailers for The Gospel, USS Poseidon: Phantom Below, and Sue–a. Each is shown in 1.85:1 widescreen and Dolby Stereo 2.0 surround sound. There's also a Behind the Scenes of Saint Ralph (08m:54s) featurette, with cast and crew interviews. This is largely a publicity fluff piece with some clips of the movie's production, in which director Michael McGowan actually says he wanted to make the first good running movie. (Anybody want to point him towards Chariots of Fire?) Rounding out the special features is a commentary by McGowan, who spends more time recalling weather conditions than offering up juicy tidbits about the production. He does, however, sprinkle some anecdotes here and there and discusses some of his personal intentions with the project.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsWhile far from being holy, Saint Ralph is a joyful comedy that combines entertainment and a religion's sense of identity successfully. The DVD is light on special features, but Sony gives it a pleasant presentation for all to enjoy.
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