A movie review of “McFarland, USA”: Kevin Costner’s latest sports movie, based on a 1987 high-school cross-country running team, stays on track. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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Baseball has been very, very good for Kevin Costner. Other sports, not so much.

“Field of Dreams” and “Bull Durham” hit a few balls out of the box-office park, and they weren’t forgotten at Oscar-nomination time. But his golf movie, “Tin Cup,” overstayed its welcome, and so did last year’s football comedy, “Draft Day.”

“McFarland, USA,” Costner’s new drama about a cross-country running team, could reverse that losing streak. Directed by Niki Caro, who made the Oscar-nominated New Zealand classic “Whale Rider,” it’s clearly the work of a filmmaker who knows how to discard stereotypes and challenge genre clichés.

Movie Review ★★★  

‘McFarland, USA,’ with Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Carlos Pratts, Valente Rodriguez, Romero Rodriguez. Directed by Niki Caro, from a screenplay by Grant Thompson, Christopher Cleveland and Bettina Gilois. 129 minutes. Rated PG for thematic material, some language and violence. Several theaters.

It opens with Costner’s character, a miserable, short-tempered football coach named Jim White, stirring up trouble in a locker room where he defiantly doesn’t deliver an inspirational speech. Instead, he bloodies a member of his team and gets fired for it.

He turns up in a dusty, forgotten California town, McFarland, with his unimpressed wife (Maria Bello) and two daughters who don’t see much future in a place that appears to be dominated by an expressive Latino culture that is alien to them.

After indulging in a meltdown in front of McFarland’s straight-talking school principal (delightfully played by Valente Rodriguez), White notices that the local Latino kids are talented runners. Encouraging their competitive instincts, he becomes close to the suicidal Thomas (Carlos Pratts) and encourages a chubby boy, Danny (Romero Rodriguez), to become an athlete.

Based on the lives of several cross-country runners whose success story began in 1987, the script is crowded with scenes that ring true and rarely stray into conventional exposition. They also flirt with sentimentality, though never in an offensive manner.

Partly that’s because Costner is so good at playing coach, and partly because he’s surrounded by such well-cast actors as Bello and Pratts. The final scenes may seem over-the-top in their fervor, but Caro makes them sing.