Producer: Christian Sander   Director: R.J. Daniel Hanna   Screenplay: R.J. Daniel Hanna and Christian Sander   Cast: Matthew Modine, Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, Jahking Guillory, Jackson Kelly, Zach Robbins, Damien Diaz, Leslie David Baker, Sean Astin, Charles Ambrose, Jaxon Goldenberg, Judah Mackey and Patrick Anthony Mullen  Distributor: Blue Fox Entertainment

Grade: C+

There’s a cable channel quality to this inspirational sports movie based on the work of Greg Townsend, a metalwork instructor and long-time cycling coach at Ridge View Youth Services Center, a medium-security correctional school for young offenders run by the Rite of Passage program near Denver until it was disaccredited by the state in 2021.  During his tenure there Townsend led some of the inmates on cycling trips, and “Hard Miles” imagines one occurring just as the campus is under review for possible closure and Townsend (played by Matthew Modine, looking fit) is struggling to cope with the imminent death of his father, who’d abused him as a child and from whom he’s been estranged for many years; his incarcerated brother Greg is telephoning constantly, urging him to visit the old man in the hospice before it’s too late to mend fences.  (Periodic flashbacks featuring Jaxon Goldenberg and Judah Mackey as the boys and Charles Ambrose as their father Scott, show the family’s fraught relationships, with Scott always pressuring Greg to be tough.)   

Amid all the turmoil Townsend, a cycling enthusiast despite joint problems, is looking forward to his upcoming two-week vacation, during which he plans to peddle the 762 miles from Denver to the Grand Canyon.  When Skip (gregarious Leslie David Baker), the school’s harried director, asks him instead to take some of the young men on a backpack hike, Greg instead suggests that he take the four he’s been working with in his class on his cycling trip.  Since he’s sometimes rather short with them in criticizing their work (or in dealing with fights in the hallways), Skip agrees only if house psychologist Haddie (cheery Cynthia McWilliams) accompanies them in the school van. Townsend cajoles local bike shop owner Speedy (reliable Sean Astin) to act as “team” sponsor.

So Greg is off with his charges: Woolbright (Jahking Guillory), a kid with a grudge against the world, just back for a second stay at the school; skinny, bespectacled Smink (Jackson Kelly), weakened by an eating disorder; Atencio (Damien Diaz), regularly in trouble because of his short fuse; and Rice (Zach Robbins), a beefy fellow who takes longer to explode.  There follows, of course, a series of mini-crises involving bickering among the boys and Townsend’s annoyance with them, continuing calls from Greg’s brother about his dying father, simple exhaustion, and the occasional issues when one or another of the young men fail to follow instructions and cause problems.  The looming threat of Ridge View’s closure—which would mean cutting the trip short—is a sword of Damocles hanging over it all. 

Of course, though word of the closure comes, by then Greg has decided to visit his father (Patrick Anthony Mullen) for a tearful reconciliation and his four charges have bonded and become so obsessed with making it to the Canyon—with Smink, having overcome his refusal to eat, leading the way and Woolbright the inevitable last holdout before he relents—that they even sabotage Haddie’s van to ensure she can’t prevent their unauthorized ride.  But you can be certain that even though the police get involved, all six of them are united at the Canyon, lessons are learned about teamwork and mutual respect, and there’s a relatively happy ending even though the school will be shut down as a result of the action of rigid bureaucrats and the students sent to institutions with more stringent rules.

This is obviously a formulaic piece, with a script by R.J. Daniel Hanna and Christian Sander and direction by Hanna that are hardly the last word in subtlety.  But Modine, McWilliams, Baker and Astin (in what amounts to a glorified cameo) all give agreeable performances (in Modine’s case, something more than that), and the young riders—especially Guillory and Kelly, who play the two better developed characters—are all fine, even if they appear rather old for their roles.

Add to that the pleasantly scenic locations (many in California rather than the states the characters traverse), solid widescreen cinematography by Mack Fisher, editing by Evan Schrodek that’s unhurried but not sloppy, and music by Andrew Johnson that underscores the emotional ups and downs without getting overbearing about it, and you have a clichéd but well-meaning coming-of-age cycling drama that will warm the hearts of viewers willing to overlook its predictability even as it will irritate those who won’t.