Dylan Baker makes his directorial debut with "23 Blast," the true story of Travis Freeman, a high-school football player in Corbin, Kentucky, suddenly stricken with blindness. The idea to make Travis play anyway comes to Coach Farris (the inimitable Stephen Lang, of "Avatar") at the end of the day, when he switches off his desk lamp. He switches it on again. This is, quite literally, a lightbulb moment.
In any other inspirational film, say, "Soul Surfer," about the one-armed surfer Bethany Hamilton, this scene might have been a flat-out groaner. Here, it feels like a knowing wink. "23 Blast" may be yet another lesson about faith at a time of crisis, but Baker sprinkles in a little humor to leaven the obligatory sermonizing.
Mark Hapka, a 32-year-old actor, is fairly unconvincing as the teenage Travis, but the movie does a good job of portraying the swift shock of his plight. After a postgame party, Travis develops a swollen eye. Within hours, he undergoes surgery for a sinus infection. That's it -- he wakes up blind. A pretty girl will enter his life (Ashley, played by Alexa PenaVega), but Travis' football career seems finished. Baker and Kim Zimmer play his stunned parents.
As an actor, Baker always seems to be having fun -- he plays the friendly, wholesome-looking sociopath Colin Sweeney on CBS' "The Good Wife" -- and he directs this movie as breezily as the material will allow. The teenage characters are rambunctious, occasionally even tipsy; Travis displays a mildly saucy wit with his new girlfriend; several minor characters provide glimmers of comic relief at slow moments. These are small touches, but they help. The serviceable script is by Toni Hoover and her son, Bram, who also plays Jerry, Travis' faithful and high-spirited friend.
Like many films of its ilk, "23 Blast" seems intended primarily for faith-based audiences. It includes a confusing scene in a church that makes better sense if you know that the on-screen preacher is the real Travis Freeman. He's now an instructor of religion at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky.