23 Blast is based on the amazingly true story of Travis Freeman. A typical teenager growing up in a small town in Kentucky, Travis is a local hero on and off the field. In the fall of 1997, in the prime of his youth, he is unexpectedly stricken with an infection that destroys his optic nerve. He becomes blind overnight. Under the influence of parents who love him, a physical therapist who challenges him, a coach who inspires him, and a best friend who he cannot bear to leave behind, Travis shows us what true bravery is by competing on the gridiron, helping his team advance to the State playoffs. We follow Travis and Jerry Baker, his closest friend, from the time they meet on the football field as kids through high school. Jerry’s attraction to the dark side of teenage temptations, beer and drugs, threatens to pull the friends apart. It is only on the football field where they truly connect.
You know what I dislike watching more than faith-based films that eschew any sense of art for a message that’s used to thump its audience? Faith-based films that try to sneak around the subject, luring the audience in with a more generalized “inspirational” story before dropping in the faith-based message, and eschewing any semblance of artistry.
The latter category is where 23 Blast exists. The highest compliment I can give anyone here, from some of the actors to the director, is “competent.” There’s nothing particularly special about the characters on display here. The adult characters seem to work just to give their hackneyed lines some semblance of meaning, while the far more inexperienced younger cast members can’t do anything to improve their lines.
My main problem with the film, though, is that there’s not really any conflict on display. While Travis certainly faces a situation many would fear, actor Mark Hapka can’t sell it. His delivery and general tone are largely the same when he’s the star football player, when he’s blindsided (my apologies for the word choice), and the eventual return to the gridiron. While there’s some (understandable) concern from others about whether or not Travis should play, the only people actively against Travis are drawn so broadly that no one can take them seriously – you can practically see these men twirling their mustaches while fumbling over themselves. It’s laughable, in a way.
The biggest surprise was the director. Dylan Baker’s more known for the types of characters he plays in films and especially on television – he’s been nominated for three Guest Actor Emmys for his role of Colin Sweeney on The Good Wife, who is not the sort of character you’d expect to show up here. It’s strange to think that someone who can put so much eccentricity into his roles as someone who’d produce something this bland.
23 Blast is selling itself as an inspirational drama. And for a particular audience, it may very well be inspirational. There are other films out there that do this sort of story better, though, and without hiding a core part of their message like this. Look elsewhere.