No one, to put it mildly, sees these kids as potential heroes. Rambunctious but good-hearted, young Spencer (William Jennings) and Alek (Bryce Gheisar) get sent to the principal's office a lot, much to the despair of their struggling single-parent mothers, played by Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer, who nevertheless have their backs.
At that office is where the boys meet young Anthony (Paul-Mikel Williams), also a frequent subject of Christian school discipline. The three become fast friends, sharing an interest in war and weaponry and listening intently when a teacher, in one of the movie's numerous bits of foreshadowing, talks of Franklin D. Roosevelt as someone who "did the right thing at the right time to defuse critical situations."
As adults, the three go their separate ways and lead what appear to be haphazard lives. Sadler enrolls at Cal State Sacramento and is not heard from a lot, while Skarlatos is deployed by the Oregon National Guard to what looks like a nondescript tour in Afghanistan.
Stone, seen reciting the Prayer of St. Francis, has a strong sense of mission. That takes him to the Air Force, but he has a lot of false starts there, which we see in uninvolving detail. Still, he continues to stubbornly believe "life is just pushing us toward something, some greater purpose."
The friends decide to reunite on a European vacation, but before we get to the train trip that made them famous, we are shown a detailed rundown of all the standard sights they took in -- including the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum in Rome, the bars of Amsterdam, the canals of Venice, the city's iconic Piazza San Marco and pricey Gritti Palace restaurant, to name just a few.
While it is nice to have the regular-guydom of these men highlighted, this marking-time itinerary tests the limit of how much the buying of gelato and the taking of multiple selfies can involve us.
As noted, the disarming of the terrifying Ayoub El Khazzani is well presented in a "You Are There" way and gives us a real sense of the kind of bravery involved. A single act of heroism can truly transform a life, but that action does not necessarily make for a transformative motion picture.
Kenneth Turan: firstname.lastname@example.org
'THE 15:17 TO PARIS'
Rated: PG-13, for bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: In general release
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