Synopsis: To save their cash-strapped orphanage, a guardian and his kids partner with a washed-up boat captain for a chance to win a lucrative fishing competition.
Stars: Jimmy Gonzales, Dennis Quaid, Anthony Gonzalez, Bruce McGill, Raymond Cruz, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Fernanda Urrejola, Nathan Arenas, Chris Doubek
Director: Julio Quintana
Running Length: 95 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Let’s get something out of the way at the start of this review, shall we? The poster for Blue Miracle, the new inspirational true life tale Netflix is premiering on May 27, stinks. It’s just awful. What looks to be a hasty photoshop project done by a junior intern doesn’t tell you what this movie is about in the slightest (no tagline?), nor would it catch your eye amongst the throng of enticing options Netflix pushes out week after week. This is too bad, because while ultimately it’s no game changer of a watch, Blue Miracle is blessedly low on the sugar you might expect to be puckering on and heavy on the good-natured charm that goes down much easier, reeling you in for a surprisingly brisk viewing.
The bones of this whale of a tale feel pretty familiar. Sunny Cabo San Lucas, Mexico is a haven for tourists who soak up the sun and sand, but venture further into the city and you’ll find Casa Hogar, a orphanage run by Omar Venegas (Jimmy Gonzales, Happy Death Day) and his wife. Dubbed Papá Omar by the children he has helped to get off the streets and provide the kind of safe environment to grow up in that he wasn’t afforded, Omar is finding it harder to make ends meet. Facing bankruptcy but unwilling to give up on the kids he has made a commitment to, he attemps a last-ditch effort to win the money in a yearly fishing tournament that’s never been open to locals before.
There are one or two problems with this plan, naturally, the first being that Omar doesn’t know how to swim, the result of a childhood trauma he keeps reliving throughout the film. Secondly, neither he nor a select group of older boys from Casa Hogar knows the first thing about fishing. Wanting to help his cash-poor friend out, tournament director Wayne Bisbee (Bruce McGill, Lincoln) pairs Omar with grizzled boat captain Wade Malloy (Dennis Quaid, Midway), a former two-time winner who had previously come to Bisbee wanting to enter the contest solo. Though neither man is happy about the prospect of splitting any winnings, both agree that something is better than nothing and it’s out to sea for a weekend that will change their hearts and minds…and possibly their futures.
Looking over screenwriter Chris Dowling’s listing on IMDb shows titles that reflect similar themes found in Blue Miracle. Different world views colliding and eventually learning from one another, choosing between wrong and right, walking a mile in someone else’s shoes…all hearty stock that goes into Chicken Soup for the Netflix Film. Yet Dowling and director Julio Quintana never let the movie get weighed down in its tripe, recycled though it may be. Aside from a few spotlight performances, as I watched the film, I kept thinking how predictable the beats were while at the same time finding a true investment with these day trippers and honestly rooting for them. It’s a strange fence to find myself sitting on, admittedly, but expect to be perched there right along with me. If we’re nitpicking, and we must, I question why a movie set in Cabo featuring characters that were born and raised there would be speaking English to each other when they are alone but, hey, I guess that’s just the way these features have to be made. Still, wouldn’t it have been nice to have it authentic, forcing audiences to either read the subtitles or admit defeat and watch it dubbed in their language of choice?
For a while there, I was beginning to think we’d lost Quaid as a dependable actor. Turning up in roles that didn’t suit him or, worse, straining to make the broad circles of comedy fit into his square wheelhouse, gone was the fun Quaid that just had a looser screen presence. In Blue Miracle, Quaid is clearly finding his way back to a comfortable place and he’s in fine (read: rare) form as the salty many of the sea that starts the film as a grump but, wouldn’t you know it, burns a little brighter once those boys from Casa Hogar spend a little time on his boat. The boys all turn in pleasant, if unremarkable, performances of stock characters that every orphanage apparently needs to have (nerd, bully, loudmouth, clown, etc) but there’s no question Blue Miracle belongs to Gonzales. Known for his TV work and small film roles, this is his chance to shine, and he does an admirable job with what he’s given. The role is inherently written as good beyond measure, so he’s pretty much accompanied by a halo. A lesser actor might go strong on the parts of the film where Omar battles his own inner demons while a bigger name might draw attention away from his costars in their scenes together. Gonzales walks that fine line well, turning in his own solid performance while making room for Quaid and the boys, too.
In a strange bit of timing, Netflix’s Blue Miracle was the second new film I screened in less than a week based on a true story that featured a group of orphan boys seen as underdogs overcoming inexperience on their path to success. That other film is 12 Mighty Orphans and it’s not coming out until July but both movies share that common thread of underestimating determination. I won’t say yet which film is more successful at tugging at the heartstrings, but both are winners when it comes to having the audience completely in their cheering section by the time the final moments draw near. As for those you considering casting a line toward Blue Miracle, I say go for it. It’s better to be see what you catch instead of having it be the one that got away.