"Bennett's War" is the kind of big-screen experience that is probably best left on the small screen.
It's a well-intentioned but ultimately cliche-ridden family drama that can never rise above its rather mediocre material.
The film tells the story of Bennett Marshal (Michael Rourke), a motocross driver who was on the verge of going pro before opting to enlist in the Army and join the Army Ranger Motorcycle Unit.
During a tour in Afghanistan, Bennett is injured in an IED explosion. He is medically discharged after suffering a broken back and badly injured leg – and is told he can't ride again or risk paralysis.
He returns home to a supportive wife (Allison Paige) and newborn child but struggles to make ends meet while living with his father (Trace Adkins) on the family farm.
Bennett learns his dad is behind on the mortgage and decides to risk injury and make a comeback as a motocross racer to support the family.
"Bennett's War" is about as predictable as films come and never bothers to color outside the lines. Director Alex Ranarivelo, who also wrote the screenplay, struggles when the film is away from the track – both with clunky dialogue and shaky direction. But once the film puts Bennett back on the track it plays to Ranarivelo's strength and comfort zone, having directed a handful of films that involve motorsports. The races are predictable, but at least they allow the film to have a bit of visual creativity and break up what is an otherwise monotonous story.
The cast members do what they can with that story. Rourke isn't bad in the lead, but he just doesn't get a chance to show much range. While Paige is OK as the supportive wife, she is given even less to do than Rourke. Ali Afshar has a few good moments as Rourke's friend and co-worker.
The one person who does stand out, however, is Adkins. The country singer shows he has a commanding screen presence, but he continues to be in films that are sub-standard at best. Adkins is the best thing going with "Bennett's War," showing glimpses of someone talented enough to lift some rather mediocre material and at least keep the audience interested.
I really would love to see what Adkins could do with good material, because he clearly has the ability to be an interesting on-screen presence. "Bennett's War" shows us glimpses of that but is nowhere close to tapping into Adkins' potential. Here's hoping he can find better material in the future.