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Walt Disney's inspiring tale of the 1980 United States Olympic Hockey team, "Miracle" finished a close second in the box office this past weekend.

"Miracle" brought in $19.4 million, just shy of "Barbershop 2: Back In Business," which opened with $25.1 million over the weekend.

"Miracle" takes you back to 1979, as the opening credits give a brief synopsis of the Iranian embargo, which led to oil shortages, Russians invading Afghanistan, and the United States Embassy personnel being taken hostage in Iran. The morale in America was low, and the United States was in need of a rallying point.

Along comes the United States Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, and we're introduced to Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell), a former player who was cut from the last gold medal winning hockey team, the 1960 U.S. Olympic Hockey team. With that still burning deep inside him, Brooks applies to be the coach of the 1980 Olympic Hockey team. His ambition is that the Russian Olympic Hockey team, which owned a 42-0 record against the USA, could be beaten with a "hybrid" style of hockey that he was teaching his team at the University of Minnesota.

Upon receiving approval by the Olympic Committee, Brooks is named coach and immediately takes control of both his team and the movie itself. Despite a week of tryouts, the ever-prepared Brooks selected the first 26 members of his team on the first day. Although that didn't sit well with committee members, it showed that Brooks would be a force to be reckoned with.

Naming Craig Patrick (Noah Emmerich) as his assistant coach, Brooks relies on him to be the "friend" to the team. In fact, it appears Patrick is taken aback by some of Brooks' coaching methods, but learns to understand them as they go along. More or less, Patrick is the "good cop" while Brooks wants to be a little feared and a little resented. At one point, after chewing out his team in the locker room, he stalks out and, passing Patrick, says in a quiet aside, "That oughta wake them up."

Many will remember the main players on the team, such as goalie Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill), who refused to take Brooks' psychological test; team captain Mike Eruzione (Patrick O'Brien Dempsey), whose determination and leadership kept him on the team; and feisty Jack O'Callahan (Michael Mantenuto), whose past rivalry with Rob McClanahan (Nathan West) was dealt with expeditiously by Brooks. The film steadily shows the adhesiveness of the team, as the little cliques that were first formed are soon merged into a capable unit.

Brooks puts his players through their paces, much so that after they tied with Norway, he kept the team on the ice "again" and "again" on skating drills for hours after the arena closed so they would work harder and finally realize Brooks' intensity in winning.

As everyone should know, the team goes on a tear and is set to face the Russians in the medal round game. Even though most of us already knew the outcome, the suspense created throughout the movie, along with some clever insight, made you feel as if you were watching it for the first time. The fast-paced action on the ice is reproduced quite accurately, along with the original 1980 Olympics commentary by Al Michaels and former Montreal Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden.

It was amazing how Russell actually morphed himself into the role of Brooks. Down to the plaid clothing of the day, his sternness and desire shows through with every decision he made in regard to the team. While some lesser-known actors and minor league players made up the team, they certainly did rise to the occasion with energetic performances and totally believable hockey play.

Finally, we have a sports movie that makes it crystal clear why athletes work so hard for that one particular game, that one night to shine. "Miracle" is a true blue spectacle at four out of four stars. To quote Fleetwood Mac, "I never did believe in miracles, but I've a feeling it's time to try." Start with this film, and you may end up seeing it "again," and "again," and "again."

"Miracle" is rated PG for language and some rough sports action. Running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes.

The Ben Stiller/Jennifer Aniston comedy, "Along Came Polly," keeps audiences laughing at No. 4, down from No. 2, with $7 million - $75.2 million in four weeks.

Ashton Kutcher's "The Butterfly Effect" is losing effectiveness, dropping to No. 5 from No. 3, adding $6.7 million to its total of $41.5 million in three weeks.

With no ending in sight, "The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King" remains in the top ten at No. 7, bringing in $4.3 million to its overwhelming total of $351.2 million.

For more information and show times, contact Regal Cinemas Marketplace 24, 180 Mill Road, Oaks, at (610) 666-6697.

Dennis J. Wright can be reached at dwright@phoenixvillenews.com.

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