Some movies take place in the early '70s, with all the usual mustaches, brown clothes and pull-tab cans; others, like the punishingly square Secretariat, actually feel unearthed from them. A family entertainment that the Brady Bunch would have enjoyed (if not actually starred in), Disney's real-life horse story, about the 1973 Triple Crown winner, is a solid shot straight up the middle. Diane Lane's primly perfect Penny Chenery has spunk enough to stand up to her lawyer hubby and the sexist Virginia businessmen who would rather she sell her daddy's stable. She's got a special feeling about one newborn colt, wobbling around adorably on stalky legs only moments after vacating the womb.
Yet whoa, hold on just a second: Penny will require the help of a rascally, strange-hat-wearing genius of a trainer (Malkovich), an intuitive, respectful horse groom (Nelsan Ellis) and even her hippie kids, who inspire her to stand up for what she believes, gosh darn it. The suspicion quickly arises that there's not enough of a story here for an actual movie; at one point, a news anchor talks about how the "superhorse" is unifying the country, a ridiculous notion in Nixon's America. But Lane, experiencing her career heyday, is sweet enough to have you rooting for her, even if her journey to the winner's circle is an odds-on favorite.
Watch the trailer