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15:17 to Paris: Not one of Eastwood's best

There was some concern over casting real-life heroes in Clint Eastwood’s new film about the 2015 terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train.

As it turns out, there should have been more worry about who wrote the script.

In “The 15:17 to Paris,” Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos do a decent job playing themselves -- three Americans who helped take down a gunman after he opened fire on a high-speed train in France.

But the screenplay by newcomer Dorothy Blyskal is weak -- full of noble thoughts expressed in the most banal and simplistic terms.

“15:17” is by no means the cinematic disaster suggested by its poor reviews (20% at Rotten Tomatoes; a “D” from Entertainment Weekly). But it’s awfully disappointing next to other real-life fare from this usually reliable director (“Sully,” “American Sniper,” “Letters from Iwo Jima”).

Like Eastwood’s film about the “Miracle on the Hudson,” this new piece keys on an event that was relatively short in duration. Yet “Sully” somehow portioned out the excitement with evenness and elegance -- whereas “15:17” feels choppy and unbalanced, even as it shuttles back and forth between the attack and the three heroes’ childhood backstory.

And that dialog -- ugh!

The motel scene between Stone and Sadler is so stiff and artificial, one could wish Eastwood had just let them improv the whole thing instead.

Poor Jenna Fischer (“The Office”) and Judy Greer play two of the boys’ moms, and they’re saddled with some of the worst lines -- including, early on, a laughable interaction with a teacher, concluding with this gem: “You have no right butting in our lives! The absurdity of it all!”

Absurdity, indeed.

Later, Fischer is forced to intone, “God spoke to me and he told me that something very exciting is going to happen.”

Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos won’t win any acting awards, but their work is certainly serviceable; in particular, Stone’s somewhat flat affect actually helps tone down the saccharine quality in many lines. And this unusual casting enables Eastwood to conclude with newsreel footage of the men being honored by the French government -- without the usual jolt that occurs when we see actual pictures of the characters at the end of a real-life movie.

(Folks who see the film may want to know that shooting victim Mark Magoolian and his wife also play themselves here.)

Despite its artificiality, “15:17” is quite suspenseful when the attack finally gets under way. Better yet, its many worthwhile ideas and ideals -- heroism, courage, the importance of faith, the sense that everything works toward a greater purpose -- these values do shine through despite the screenplay’s tin-eared approach.

So viewers probably won’t feel ripped off, even as they realize that Eastwood can do better.

Let’s hope the 87-year-old veteran still has more movies up his sleeve.

“The 15:17 to Paris,”

directed by Clint Eastwood

Run time: 94 min.

* * 1/2 (out of four)

Rated PG-13 on appeal for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language

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