Saint Ralph

Starring Adam Butcher and Campbell Scott. Rated PG.

Aside from the reassuring presences of Campbell Scott, as the faith-troubled Father Hibbert, and Gordon Pinsent, as autocratic schoolmaster Father Fitzpatrick, Saint Ralph has little to recommend it. The Ralph of the title, played by the less-than- charismatic Adam Butcher, is a scraggly 14-year-old not particularly well situated for religious school, especially in the provincial Hamilton, Ontario, of 1953. The lad lost his father in the war, and now his mother (Shauna MacDonald) has slipped into a coma.

Already obsessed with the saints of yore (and didn't we just see this, done a hundred times better, in the currently playing Millions?), Ralph hears that "it would take a miracle" to bring his mother back from the brink. So, naturally enough, he decides that running in and winning the 1954 Boston Marathon would be just what the doctor, or somebody, ordered.

When Father Fitzpatrick gets wind of this, he declares it a blasphemy, although the boy inspires Father Hibbert, a Nietzsche-reading former runner, to help train the potential orphan. Many montage sequences ensue. Comic, or at least tonal, relief comes from Ralph's requisite four-eyed helper (Michael Kanev), his crush on a poised classmate (Tamara Hope, who was already 20 when this was shot), and further business with Mom's ornery nurse, played by the gratingly out-of-place Jennifer Tilly.

Actually, it's somewhat pointless to discuss what's in and out of place in this clunky period piece. The art department has done terrific work dressing the actors and sets with early-'50s appointments. But writer-director Michael McGowan not only fails to convey the era, he actively undercuts it with anachronistic dialogue and body language in virtually every scene.

Characters don't just indulge in the usual "Don't mess with me" and "It's not about running, dammit" modernisms, they employ Seinfeld-like devices with alarming regularity. For instance, when Ralph reads that athletes need extra calories, a school bully spots his overloaded cafeteria tray and asks, "What's with the gluttony?"

As long as we're asking, what's with the Gord Downey version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"? It's like a fuzzy carbon copy of a song we've already heard too many times. Hmmm, reminds me of some English-Canadian movies we've been seeing lately.