'23 Blast': Film Review

Actor Dylan Baker makes a solid directorial debut with this fact-based gridiron drama.

Mark Hapka stars as a high school football player who returns to the field after going blind

A veritable Blind Side, the inspirational sports drama 23 Blast tells the true story of Travis Freeman, a high school football star stricken with an infection that completely destroyed his optic nerve.

Stepping behind the camera, versatile actor Dylan Baker makes an assured directorial debut, drawing spirited performances from his seasoned cast while mainly steering clear of the usual, treacly movie-of-the week conventions that often go with the territory.

Given that times have been tough for the genre (consider the lackluster reception for Million Dollar Arm and When the Game Stands Tall), it’s unlikely this modest release by Ocean Avenue Entertainment will do much to reverse the trend, despite the impressive teamwork.

The pride of the Corbin Redhounds, Travis Freeman (a nicely committed Mark Hapka) is a small-town Kentucky golden boy whose bright future literally grows dark when what was first assumed to be a sinus infection, turns out to be a rare disease resulting in total blindness.

But self-pity isn’t an option — not if Freeman’s parents (Baker and Kim Zimmer), his no-nonsense mobility coach (terrifically played by the director's wife, Becky Ann Baker) and his team’s coach (Stephen Lang) have anything to say about it — and it isn’t long before Freeman finds his way back on the playing field.

The lively script, co-penned by Bram Hoover (who also plays Freeman’s troubled teammate Jerry Baker ) and Toni Hoover, is peppered with quirky characters, while Baker demonstrates a keen eye for detail, especially in sequences involving Freeman’s rehabilitation.

Although the game-playing sequences aren’t as rousingly choreographed, Jay Silver’s crisp cinematography feels true to its actual Corbin, Ky., locations.

Production companies: Touchdown Productions, Toy Gun Films

Cast: Mark Hapka, Stephen Lang, Timothy Busfield, Bram Hoover, Max Adler, Fred D. Thompson, Alexa Vega, Dylan Baker, Kim Zimmer

Director: Dylan Baker

Screenwriters: Bram Hoover, Toni Hoover

Producers: Gary Donatelli, Toni Hoover

Executive producers: Dan Snyder, Misook Doolittle, Brent Ryan Green

Director of photography: Jay Silver

Production designer: Adri Siriwatt

Costume designer: Carla Shivener

Editor: Matt Mayer

Music: Michael Hill

Casting directors: Liz Lewis, Angela Mickey

Rated PG-13, 98 minutes