Cale Bryant harbors big dreams. Pretty ironic, considering the boy never seems to sleep.
Cale is an up-and-coming motocross racer—a talented rider with a meager sponsorship, a good track record (so to speak) and the ambition to make it to the lucrative pro circuit. He devotes every spare minute to the sport: training, tinkering with his bike, racing.
But for Cale, spare moments are as rare as vegan NASCAR fans. The fledgling rider has two jobs—one as a worker bee at an electronics outlet, another as a pizza delivery guy—and uses the checks to patch his family’s leaky economic boat. Cale’s dad took off long ago, and his mom (Jeanette) can’t make ends meet by just working at the local diner—not and study for college at the same time, anyway. So Cale, the de facto man of the house, serves as the family breadwinner. Barely out of high school, he’s living paycheck to paycheck, hoping one day to make it to the motocross version of the Bigs and give his family a better life.
Weird how things rarely work out the way you plan, isn’t it?
One night while delivering pizzas, Cale catches his girlfriend smooching his motocross archrival, the rich and arrogant Derek Black. Cale goes nuts and smashes a car window. And when the police come, he bolts. Things get smoothed out later that evening, but the damage is done: Cale’s forced to pay for the window, a speeding ticket and, worst of all, his sponsorship is yanked, leaving him bikeless and raceless. Seems his dream is done.
Unless, of course, Cale can find a beat-up motorcycle that he can somehow patch up and make his own. Unless he can manage to take a third job to earn money for spare parts and the registration for the biggest race of the year. And unless somehow he can get a new sponsor to foot the rest of the bill.
But, really, what would the odds be of all that happening?
Back in the 19th century, a guy named Horatio Alger penned a series of wildly popular stories about clever, industrious boys who would, through hard work and a little luck, transcend poverty and make it big.
If Alger had known anything about motocross, I might’ve pegged him for Free Style’s screenwriter.
This is not a bad thing. While Alger’s works didn’t exactly become classic literature, they are loaded with healthy virtues and pertinent lessons. And the same can be said of Free Style: In Cale, we see a guy who dreams big but understands that nothing comes for free. He works incredibly hard and does it, mostly, with an attitude somewhere between dutiful resignation and sincere good will.
Sure, he has issues. But overall, Cale’s priorities are dead-on solid—even if they sometimes manifest themselves in odd ways. When his best friend crashes on a course, Cale turns back to make sure he’s all right—even though he’s yards away from winning. When his archrival wins a big event, Cale manages to walk up to the podium and shake his hand. And when his mother gets into a serious car accident, he sells his bike—representative of his last shot at motocross glory—to pay her medical bills. He respects his mom, dotes on his sister and does everything a good son should.
The folks around Cale are, by and large, supportive. When his motocross friend, Justin, messes up his knee, Justin donates his racing spot to Cale. Cale’s mother clearly backs her son. Cale’s old girlfriend—two-timer though she is—is a fantastic worker in her own right (she’s always studying) and gently suggests that Cale should have a backup plan beyond motocross, just in case. And Alex, Cale’s new girlfriend, is a nice, thoughtful girl with a solid, protective family structure.
On the eve of the big race, Cale walks the track and offers a prayer to God. He admits that he doesn’t spend a lot of time praying, and he’s even doubted God’s existence at times. But he adds, "I figure You have to be there for me to be here." And instead of praying for a win, he simply says, "I just want to ask you to help me do my best today."
When Cale buys his mother a bevy of lottery tickets for her birthday, Cale’s little sister bows her head and clasps her hands over some of them. (Her mother cautions her that praying over lottery tickets is "not right.")
Cale kisses both his old and new girlfriend. He catches Derek making out with his girlfriend in a car, and interrupts another such liaison involving Justin and an unnamed lady. Justin tries to make moves on a waitress. (He’s soundly rejected.)
A quip is made about a pregnant prom queen. When Alex’s little brothers start pestering Alex and Cale at a family get-together, Alex tells them they’d better scram before she tells "Pappy what I found under your beds."
During the closing credits, we see an outtake of the car makeout scene where Corbin Bleu, who plays Cale, opens the car door to find the actors playing Justin and Derek "making out" (Derek’s in a wig) as a practical joke.
Cale breaks that car window, and he also attacks Derek, punching at him and grabbing at him. Cale, Justin and Derek sometimes scuffle, though it never goes beyond pushing and shoving.
Jeanette’s car accident is pretty jarring: We see her unconscious, her head resting on the steering wheel.
The motocross races can also be intense, and several riders crash or are jostled off the course. One crash leads to Justin’s severe leg injury. Another results in him being knocked out for a bit.
Crude or Profane Language
God’s name is misused a half-dozen times. "A‑‑," "d‑‑n" and "h‑‑‑" pop up a handful of times each. Bailey launches a host of schoolyard crudities, from "fartface" to "turd."
Drug and Alcohol Content
It’s implied that several characters, including Cale’s first girlfriend, drink alcohol at a party. And there’s a suggestion that said girlfriend wouldn’t have smooched Derek had she not been somewhat impaired.
Other Negative Elements
When Cale discovers a check from his father that Jeanette never cashed, he gets angry with his mom, says a few mean things (which he later regrets and apologizes for) and goes off to confront his father.
"You don’t always get to be who you want to be, Cale," his mom tells him.
This is true. And it’s a truth that’s rarely told in the confines of a movie such as this. In the High School Musical movies, where Free Style star Corbin Bleu cut his teeth, we see dreams come true at every turn. And while I’m an incurable optimist who loves happy endings, even I know that sometimes, in real life, things don’t work out the way we’d like them to.
Not that the film stops there or descends into helplessly fatalistic melancholy. It insists that, regardless of the cards we’ve been dealt, we can all improve our odds through dedication and hard work. Cale is the poster boy for this outlook, but he’s not the only one. We learn that Alex’s father, a strict-but-loving dad, came to America with the hopes of escaping the poverty of his native Mexico; he labored for nine years here before he felt financially stable enough to send for his family.
And Free Style doesn’t stop there, either. Lessons lurk around every bend. Through Cale, the audience is spoon-fed morals on friendship, responsibility, forgiveness and family.
Its language is harsher than HSM’s, and the themes are more mature. But in a day when films are made primarily to take stuff—your $10, your two hours—Free Style is the rare movie that wants to give something back: a worthwhile message that, if you take it to heart, might help smooth out the road—er, track—ahead.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Corbin Bleu as Cale Bryant; Penelope Ann Miller as Jeanette; Jesse Moss as Justin Maynard; Matt Bellefleur as Derek Black; Sandra Echeverria as Alex
William Dear ( )
Samuel Goldwyn Films
October 9, 2009
February 9, 2010