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without limits
Click for full sized poster

Without Limits

Starring Billy Crudup, Donald Sutherland, Monica Potter
Written by Robert Towne and Kenny Moore
Directed by Robert Towne

IN SHORT: Finishes out of the money.

We begin this review with a little bit of film history. Please indulge me. About two years back, two movies were in production based on the life story of runner Steve Prefontaine. As with all adaptations from life, the writers worked with people that knew Pre and wrote their stories from those angles. First film to hit the screen was called Prefontaine and did not have the support of the people closest to Pre, including his coach (and founder of Nike) Bill Bowerman. Prefontaine built its story about the man's battles against childhood injuries -- I remember some effective scenes of the boy Pre in leg braces outrunning bullies -- and restrictive amateur athletic policies. Plus battles against the better international runners culminating in the heartbreak of the 1972 Olympics and the triumph of an unapproved amateur match that followed. Thematically, the film was about overcoming limits.

Which is interesting, 'cuz the second film, now released as Without Limits is more a Prefontaine life story than the first one. This time out, the focus is almost entirely on how Steve Prefontaine's experiences made him a better person. I put it that way because, quite frankly, this version of Steve Prefontaine we initially see in Without Limits makes the man out to be a self-absorbed, petty, and thoroughly unlikeable ass . . . until he meets the girl of his dreams, an observant Catholic girl who won't put out to the big track star on campus. Prefontaine miraculously becomes Mister Sensitive and a badly written relationship has badly written up and downs.

This flick is so focused on the runner and the running that the character development is almost nonexistent. Donald Sutherland's role as Bill Bowerman is more grandfather than college coach. The real Bowerman, it should be pointed out, is one of the sources behind this film's story which could account for his character's relative niceness, as far as coaches go (in Prefontaine, the coach was quirky and curmudgeonly). By extension, the transformation from ass to well rounded Pre could also be the coach's perception of the man. Cranky doesn't know. That's always the problem with "based on true stories" films.

The script for Without Limits lays out a potential conflict between Pre and his mother and never follows it up. This happens again in scenes portraying Pre's real life competitions with other track stars and the battle against the AAU. The important races, Collegiate and Olympic, are present in the film and only in those brief seconds of running does director Robert Towne's vision fire up the screen. The personal side of Pre is so disjointedly written that there's little Billy Crudup can do to save it.

Without Limits is a movie that has been shot in the kneecaps. The first Pre flick got rights to the better stories -- unless that flick made 'em all up (in which case I tip my cap to the screenwriter 'cuz he delivered a more watchable story than Towne and Kenny Moore did on this flick).

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Without Limits, he would have paid . . .


Midweek rental level. Solely for Sutherland. Producers Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner should have cut their losses. Cranky's reco is the first one.

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