25 Hill is a movie about an unlikely friendship between a grizzled old fire chief named Roy Gibbs (played by Corbin Bernsen), and quick-witted 12-year-old soapbox derby racer Trey Caldwell (Nathan Gamble of Dolphin Tale fame). A first question that pops into ones head at the start of the DVD may very well be about the title itself: 25 Hill. What exactly does this mean? We find out soon enough that it refers to an address. This address is one long straight downhill stretch – a place that is perfect for soapbox derby racing, and the subject matter at the core of this pleasant, well-made family film. Soapbox Derby Racing relies on downhill battles, races between adolescents in their homemade racecars, but the movie itself has more to do with uphill battles, and it’s these uphill/downhill struggles that propel this thought-provoking film about perseverance, determination, and using your brains.
These uphill battles come at us hard and fast, beginning at the start of the movie with the death of Trey Caldwell’s father as he is away at military reserve service in Afghanistan. Roy Gibbs struggles with the reality of the death of his own son, also a firefighter, killed during the World Trade Center attacks of September 11. Trey’s father had recently bought him a soapbox racer, and the two had just begun to build it when Trey’s father is sent overseas. Roy had been a soapbox racer himself when he was a young man, and these two are brought together by Trey’s school principal in the hopes that they can they find some level of comfort and healing in each other’s company. The hardnosed fire chief thinks this highly unlikely, as he finds his comfort in the bottom of a bottle. Trey is totally happy in moving forward on his own, a fact that is evident by his lack of friends, and his solitude in working on the racecar alone. But a bond is eventually developed as they push together to finish the car and win the races, and ultimately come up against the whole existence of the Soapbox Derby itself.
This is film for the entire family: well-produced, well-written, and well-acted. The lessons learned about perseverance are timeless, and the twists and turns of the film keep it moving along rather nicely. A more developed storyline revolving around Roy’s drinking would have made the problem more evident – other than a drinking and driving episode, he just doesn’t seem like he has a heavy drinking problem – it is more talked about than shown. Given that this film is geared to a more family friendly audience, the downplaying of the drinking makes sense and lends itself to a younger audience.
Whether life finds you racing downhill or struggling to make it uphill, 25 Hill shows that the journey is better with a friend, and there is more to life than the checkeredflag. Enjoy the ride, and enjoy the movie.

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