Everything in this review will contradict the advice I proffer at the end. So, you've been warned.
The story of the greatest racehorse in history and his unlikely owner, a pampered suburban housewife, would have been remarkable enough. But, then Disney got hold of it. Now, everything is bathed in a warm, amber glow; set to stirring music; given a Christian context (God must've wanted Secretariat to win); and made more wholesome than this movie critic can imagine a barn would likely be. Oh, and don't get me started on the four young "actors" who portray the children of Secretariat's owner. I've seen better at a kindergarten Christmas pageant.
Diane Lane conjures up June Cleaver in dress, hair and manner in her rendition of Penny Tweedy, who takes over her parents' horse farm and breeding operation after they kick it. John Malkovich calls to mind Jim Carrey in his ridiculous, overzealous portrayal of Lucien Laurin, Secretariat's trainer.
Careless storytelling shows itself in the form of Laurin saying, late in the movie, he's worked the horse so hard for two years that Secretariat must be resentful. "I'm not getting my hands anywhere near his mouth," he says. "He's been waiting for two years to get hold of me." Yet, we've never once -- not once -- seen any footage of trainer and horse working together. Not so much as a quick montage.
But, we're treated to two scenes of Penny, her ever-present secretary and the slightly slow-but-wise groom washing the horse and suddenly breaking into a dance routine.
I couldn't resist the power of the story. Despite the problems and the very conventional filmmaking, I was rooting for Secretariat and for Penny, whom no one thought could succeed. The audience was cheering, weeping and applauding loudly by the end. Even a chronic critic is not immune to such charms. Secretariat is a crowd-pleaser full of big Life Lessons. It's hardly award-winning filmmaking (and the acting is mostly laughable), but it's like a big, goofy, accident-prone Labrador you can't help but love. See it.