The latest film by CHINATOWN scribe Robert Towne, Without Limits is the second film in as many years about the American track runner Steve Prefontaine. It is perhaps no surprise that the press conference for
the film was dominated by questions for one of the film’s producers, Tom Cruise.

Billy Crudup (‘cruh-dup’, not ‘croo-dup’ as he kept insisting during the press conference) plays Prefontaine through the years of his high school record-breaking success to his eventual drunken automotive death. His dramatic foil comes in the form of his coach, played well by Donald Sutherland. The dynamic between the two fluctuates between hard-assed coach and student to tallented protegĂ© and fan. Their relationship is the strongest one in the film, and it saves the picture from being just another flick about a guy who can jog, yet lost at the ’72 Olympics to some nameless foreigners.

The irony, of course, is that 5 or 10 years ago Cruise himself (pronounced ‘cruhz’, as he said at the press conference) would have played the title role. He would not have done better then Crudup, who is actually quite convincing and engaging as the troubled runner. The movie is severely hampered, however, by the poorly written and performed female lead. Overall, in fact, the diologue was rarely fresh, and often amounted to parables and clichĂ©s of the genre. I expected more from a director who also wrote the words.

In the end, this film is a well acted DAYS OF THUNDER, substituting cars for jogging shoes (Nike waffle-iron shoes, no less!) and steamy sex scenes for steamy foreplay scenes that end up in guilt ridden conversations about the beauty of abstinence. If, as Prefontaine says, that running is art, then this film has run an adequate race, never jostling out from the middle of the pack, courageously reaching for the lead, but not collapsing in a pathetic lump in the back of the pack either.