Amazing Grace and Chuck has a heartfelt message but it ultimately trips over its own good intentions.
Chuck (Joshua Zuelkhe) is a 12 year-old boy who lives in Montana and who is the best little league pitcher in the state. Because a field trip to a missile silo causes him to have nightmares, Chuck announces that he will not play baseball until the world agrees to nuclear disarmament. Chuck’s team ends up having to forfeit a game because Chuck refuses to play. In the real world, this would lead to Chuck enduring 6 years of ridicule and bullying until he was finally old enough to change his name and go to college in a different state. In the world of the movies, it leads to Chuck becoming a hero.
A basketball player named Amazing Grace (Alex English) reads a news story about Chuck’s protest and he decides to protest as well. He announces that he will not play basketball until there are no more nuclear missiles. Before you can say “Colin Kaepernick,” hundreds of other sports stars are following Amazing Grace’s lead. Of course, if any group of people is well known for their willingness to give up a huge payday for a quixotic and largely symbolic protest, it’s America’s professional athletes. Amazing Grace and the athletes even move out to Montana, so that they can be closer to Chuck.
Because they do not appreciate his efforts to put all sporting events (and all betting on sporting events) on hold, the Mafia makes plans to assassinate Amazing Grace. Chuck protests this by taking a vow of silence. By now, it is hard to keep track of what Chuck is protesting and how. Is he still trying for world disarmament or has he moved on to getting the Mob out of professional sports? All the other children of the world follow Chuck’s example, refusing to speak. In the real world, children taking a vow of silence would lead to parents celebrating in the street but, in the movie, it leads to panic and causes the Soviets to assume they have the upper hand over the west. The President (Gregory Peck) ruins it all by inviting Chuck to the White House. When President Peck explains that people are not allowed to shout fire in a crowded movie theater, Chuck breaks his vow of silence to ask, “But what if there’s a fire?”
There are many problems with Amazing Grace and Chuck, including the dumb Mafia subplot that seems like it should be in a different movie and Chuck coming across as being a smug little creep. Joshua Zuehlke made his film debut as Chuck and, on the basis of his performance, it is not surprising that he has never appeared in another film since. By the end of the movie, even Gregory Peck is sick of Chuck and his demands. It’s obviously a heartfelt film, which is probably why actors like Peck, Jamie Lee Curtis, and William L. Petersen all appeared in it despite presumably having a hundred better things to do, but a nuanced look at détente and the arms race, Amazing Grace and Chuck is not.