Written and directed by J.D. Scott
Starring Kevin Sorbo, Aaron Jakubenko, Wade Briggs, Anna McGahan, Cameron Caulfield, Denise Roberts and more
Grade: Two and a half stars
History is more interesting than most people realize.
That’s evident once again in “Spirit of the Game,” a sports movie and LDS movie that manages to retain many of the simple pleasures of each genre. Though the fact that it’s based on a true story robs it of some of the clichéd story beats that sports movies like to hit, it’s a gentle, warm-hearted movie that offers a fun glimpse into church history.
Set in the 1950s, the movie follows a young basketball player from the University of Utah who, after heartbreak at home, decides to serve a mission in Australia. The people there are far more interested in sports than they are missionary work, however, and with the Olympic Games coming up, basketball is all anyone can think about. Luckily, there just happen to be some missionaries who are great at basketball, and are willing to use their skills to help get the country’s Olympic team in shape.
Most of the cast are relative unknowns – though Kevin Sorbo shows up as the main character’s dad, continuing his inexplicable streak of being in any religious movie he can get his hands on – though their resumes are more impressive than those normally found in an LDS movie.
Aaron Jakubenko, best known for his work on the “Shannara Chronicles” TV series, is appealingly humble as lead character Delyle Condie, personable enough that you want him to succeed and emotionally complicated enough that he has a journey to go through. Wabe Briggs starts off a little awkwardly as Condie’s companion, but soon proves to have excellent chemistry with Jakubenko and a slyly subtle gift for comic timing.
The movie is far from perfect, plagued with some of the stiffness that infects a lot of smaller-budget religious movies. But there’s more grace and skill in the storytelling than in several other films from that category, and a strong sense of inspiration and wholesomeness that never crosses over the line to feeling preachy.
It also tells an interesting story well, drawing me in even though I personally don’t have the slightest interest in basketball. The movie’s approach to athletics feels like sportsmanship in its purest form, a wholesome love of the game and respect for their fellow players that would be welcome in real games today.
It’s easy to cheer for that spirit, as well as the boys who show it.