Travis Freeman, a real-life teenager from Corbin, KY., goes blind overnight, throwing his world into darkness and impacting the lives of those in his family, on his football team, and within the community. But this is a bigger-than-Hollywood kind of sports story, the kind even Disney couldn’t dream up, as Freeman (played by Mark Hafka) decides that playing it safe is not an option.
Dylan Baker, known best for his roles in the Tobey Maguire Spiderman films, The Good Wife, and Damages, makes his directorial debut, teaming with Bram Hoover, a Corbin, KY. native, who wrote the script about Freeman’s life and co-stars as Freeman’s childhood friend, Jerry. These two, along with a cast-against-type Stephen Lang as a good guy, motivational Coach Farris, take us on a story that uses humor and football to navigate through a story about losing it all and finding a new way forward. [Seriously, it’s amazing that there are some Scent of a Woman-like funny moments to a movie that is otherwise about
In addition to the dynamics involved with Freeman’s blindness, there’s an ongoing side story about how Coach Farris handles Jerry, who is the team’s starting quarterback, a troublemaker, and unable to remember the plays he is supposed to call! Farris grinds against the expectations of Corbin’s athletic director, Duncan (Timothy Busfield), and the Friday Night Lights-like pressure of high school football in the state of Kentucky. There’s a sense that if the two childhood friends are going to make it, they’re going to need each other.
Thankfully, they’re not alone.
Alex PenaVega (Spy Kids, The Remaining) plays Ashley, a fellow Corbin High student, who has admired Freeman from afar, and becomes one of the few people to seek him out in his recovery; Becky Ann Baker (the director’s wife) plays an advocate for those with disabilities and Freeman’s rehabilitation coach, Patty Wheatley, who refuses to let him stay down when he first goes blind. Both of these women prove to be steadying influences in the Freemans’ lives, even as Freeman’s parents (Baker and Kim Zimmer) find themselves incapacitated by their son’s struggle.
Most of us are going to find ourselves encountering roadblocks to our happiness, our way of life, and our hopes and dreams. 23 Blast asks us to consider how we respond to those challenges, and what we would do to overcome them. The fact that Freeman overcomes life and football makes this a feature film, but if Freeman can overcome blindness, what have you deemed too tough to overcome that you should be fighting? If you’re fully capable, what are you doing to be a support to someone who needs it? If you’re a person of faith, what witness do you share when you’re facing adversity?
23 Blast is entertaining, funny and poignant, but don’t let it fool you: it has a message that it wants you to hear loud and clear.