Soccer Starlet 

Too many family ties keep "Gracie" from being a winner.

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Gracie" offers a tart retroactive irony for moviegoers. Everyone who's seen "The Karate Kid" remembers Daniel-san kicking around the soccer ball in numerous scenes, to the amusement of his cheerleading love interest, Ali (Elisabeth Shue).

"Gracie" is based on true events in Elisabeth Shue's family, specifically her fight as a teen to make the boy's varsity soccer team at her local high school in New Jersey. The idea apparently was laughable to many people in 1978, the year the film takes place. Five years later, Elisabeth's girlier alter-ego Ali was regulated to the cheering squad.

Not so for sturdy Elisabeth, whose real-life goal to make the varsity squad gets an uneven treatment here. Elisabeth herself plays the movie mom to 16-year-old Gracie Bowen (Carly Schroeder), whose brother, a star on the local soccer team, dies on the eve of his senior year in a car crash. Gracie, who worshiped the older boy, wants to help his team beat their rivals next year. Everyone laughs at her desire to play on the boy's team, sending her on a small odyssey of teenage angst.

Gracie finally gets the help of a cranky tutor (another nod to "The Karate Kid") in the form of her dad (Dermot Mulroney), himself a former soccer star. But dad, we learn, is really just humoring her. This rebellious point — that nobody really believes in Gracie but herself — inches toward an interesting showdown between an individual's aspiration and the crowd's carefully guarded beliefs. This theme is finally pushed aside, however, in favor of a simpler feel-good story about overcoming obstacles.

"Gracie" is a family movie about a family, made by that family. The Shue clan gets in on the game. Brother Andrew has a walk-on role as an assistant coach (it's an empty gesture — casting Tiger Woods, or a block of wood, would have made no difference), and Elisabeth's husband, Davis Guggenheim (of "An Inconvenient Truth"), was available to direct. In a case of cinematic death by nepotism, all the actors perform as if they are being coached by their kid brother.

A quote at the end belies the forced sentiment that eventually sinks the film, revealing a 6-year-old Elisabeth who had no qualms about dribbling circles around the boys. Such a character, with such a natural indifference to closed-minded stereotypes, would have been more interesting than the cheery uplift "Gracie" shoots for. (PG-13) 95 min. S

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