The 5th Quarter
2 out of 4 stars
It’s utterly impossible for anyone with even a sliver of a heart to sit through “The 5th Quarter” and not be moved. On a strictly human interest level, there are few stories more powerful than this one. There’s death, sports uplift, family strife and rebirth and every single second of it is presented with the utmost sincerity and good intentions.
The problem with intent and its often opposite, execution — at least in the medium of film — is that the former can overpower the latter and turn what should be inspirational and life-affirming into something mawkish and pandering. Such is the case with “The 5th Quarter.”
In 2006, the Abbate family of Cobb County’s Powder Springs had their lives changed forever. Their youngest child Luke was severely injured in a traffic accident in which he was the passenger in a car driven by an out-of-control acquaintance. Luke was left barely alive but brain-dead and his father Steven (Aidan Quinn) and mother Maryanne (Andie MacDowell) had to decide in mere minutes whether to prolong his life or do what Luke had wished when he got his driver’s license: to donate his organs.
Luke’s selfless act resulted in extending the lives of five people he never knew, and if writer/director/producer Rick Bieber had focused exclusively on this single incredible fact, the movie could have turned the organ donation program into a national or international phenomenon. Bieber instead features a single recipient of one of Luke’s organs in the course of the entire film, and even then it is included only to add bookend lip service to the rest of the story. It was a major missed opportunity. Bieber could have made another “Brian’s Song” but instead he churned out a weaker version of “The Blind Side.”
Taking his cue from every overproduced sports drama of the last 20 years, Bieber turns “The 5th Quarter” into a football movie with minor family dysfunction embellishments and alcoholism sidebars. The movie concentrates on Luke’s brother Jon (Ryan Merriman) — a Wake Forest linebacker who dons his brother’s No. 5 jersey and dedicates the season to his memory.
The movie then isn’t so much about the tragic death of a child and its positive ripples as it is about a college football team marching toward its first winning season in two decades. It’s less hoorah and more ho-hum. We’ve been there and we’ve done that far more than enough already.
From the time it starts until it ends some 90 minutes later, there is maybe a minute’s worth of screen time that isn’t accompanied by music of some sort. All of it is instructional and most it is intrusive. Original slow songs with sad lyrics are played overtop of important passages of dialogue. Hard rock and pop songs are present during the car crash scene and whenever weight-lifting or football is seen. Syrupy, overwrought strings fill the remainder.
Bieber assumes his audience is emotionally bereft and/or ignorant and feels the need to prompt it at every turn. Next to flashback (employed here in mercifully short supply), score and soundtrack is the most go-to crutch when trying to patch holes in screenplays and this one is total Swiss cheese.
“The 5th Quarter” should have been about five people who were saved and not about football.
If you’d like to honor the memory of Luke Abbate and his intent, you have the option to visit this website: lukeabbate5thquarter.org. It benefits victims of teen car crashes — a most noble, honorable and worthy cause. Or you can see this film and get a distorted version of the truth while lining a studio’s pockets. One choice will make you feel alive and fleetingly vital; the other much more so. (Rocky Mountain Pictures)