- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

“Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story” will be tough to surpass as the year’s most insipid title. Its grasp of sentimental essentials while glorifying a child’s devotion to a racehorse also proves slipshod.

The title alludes to a filly named Sonador (“dreamer” in Spanish), a promising 2-year-old who recovers from a backstretch broken leg within a matter of months, then defies all sorts of accelerating implausibilities to become a princess of long shots when entered in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

An inspirational heart warmer with a sense of proportion might have highlighted the names Cale and Sonya. The former is the name of the juvenile heroine, played by Dakota Fanning; the latter is her horse-raising family’s nickname for fast-healing and indomitable Sonador, doubled by seven actual equines and a few mechanical props, indispensable for simulating the initial accident and the far-fetched finale. The obliging Classic appears to leave Sonya about 20 lengths behind at the first turn, setting the stage for generous slowdowns from the rest of the field to put her in contention for a colossal upset.

Cale is the only child of a Lexington, Ky., trainer named Ben Crane, played by Kurt Russell. Although he still lives on a sizable farm, Ben has been reduced by debts and hard luck to training for lesser men, notably David Morse as the arrogant factotum for a Saudi sportsman.

Ben resists terminating the injured Sonya only because Cale happens to be on the scene when she falls. He ends up without a steady job and the responsibility for the horse’s recuperation. The important thing in this crisis, at least for writer-director John Gatins, is that everyone, starting with Ben, believes in Cale’s dream of Sonya’s recovery and redemption. All other considerations are trifling. It’s clear that shameless overreaching will never fail, since the fix is in.

There’s never any compelling reason to believe in the estrangement between father and daughter. Nevertheless, poor Elisabeth Shue, in the token role of Ben’s wife and Cale’s mother, is obliged to harp on the theme.

A similar bogus hostility is supposed to separate Ben from his cantankerous dad, a Walter Brennan cameo for Kris Kristofferson. This side issue exists only to be brushed aside within two or three scenes. In the role of Cale, Miss Fanning has less to stimulate her charming preciousness than one might hope, although her teeth are in a slightly snaggled phase that’s rather cute.

Mariah’s Storm, the horse who evidently inspired the script, came back far more slowly than the film’s Sonya and won less glittering prizes. Given the severity of the injury, her performance sounds stirring enough for sane dramatization. Filmmakers have grown so vain about their myth-making roles (I blame the friendship of George Lucas and the late Joseph Campbell) that they now scorn small-scale, reasonable triumphs over adversity. It’s a shortcut to the Breeders’ Cup Classic or bust. “Dreamer” comes up flat busted.

*1/2

TITLE: “Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story”

RATING: PG (Some elements of family conflict; fleeting profanity; simulations of a racing accident that severely injures a horse)

CREDITS: Written and directed by John Gatins. Cinematography by Fred Murphy. Production design by Brent Thomas. Horse trainer: Rex Peterson. Music by John Debney.

RUNNING TIME: About 100 minutes

WEB SITE: www.DreamWorks.com/Dreamer

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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