Hawaii is truly one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but its history hasn’t always been so.
A new doctor (Matt Dillon) arrives at one of Hawaii’s coffee plantations just as the Spanish flu is indiscriminately taking life left and right (circa 1920). On one bad day, two women succumb: the wife of the plantation owner, leaving her daughte rGrace motherless, and an unmarried Japanese migrant worker, leaving her mixed race son Jo motherless. Jo was the kind of kid who brought shame at the time, so they thought, so Jo’s mother had always hid his existence from the other workers, from everyone. Now there’s no one to care for him; he’s alone in the world. Until the doctor shows up, and has these crazy notions that children should be fed and such.
Turns out Jo is pretty useful to the good doctor. Although the workers still fear the kid, he’s a useful translator and ingratiates himself to the community. Fast forward to: Jo is now a young man (Ryan Potter), and a fast one – “the medicine runner,” they call him, useful, perhaps indispensable as a conduit between the migrants and the doctor. One day, while Doc is in town, ostensibly on a pharmaceutical run, but actually petitioning yet again to adopt Jo despite stringent, racist laws that would have otherwise, the owner’s daughter Grace (Olivia Ritchie) is injured, and Jo offers up his own services as the doctor’s apprentice. The owner is not having it, but then, he doesn’t even approve of the white “country doctor” either, and it’s only the memory of his wife’s death that allows the appointment to take place. Pretty soon erotic temperature-taking is taking place, and all the flirting that can be mustered from either side of a muslin curtain. But the owner soon dispatches a “proper” doctor, Reyes (Jim Caviezel), who of course is a big white jerk.
Running For Grace is an ironic title considering what a slow burn it is. No, wait, burn implies it ever gets some heat, but even Hawaii’s volcanoes do little to light a fire under this story. Ostensibly it’s a forbidden romance between two young people who could never be together, but that’s only a superficial disguise for yet another white saviour movie. Jo, though he has proved his worth tenfold, is still an illegitimate bastard with no last name. Doc, though unsuccessful in adopting him, insists that they are family, and that’s enough. Which is a nice sentiment, except the implication is that Jo would not be enough without him, that Jo’s mother was not enough, that his actual biology and parentage are not enough, and that only his association with the white doctor has legitimized him.
You mustn’t even feel torn about this movie because it’s not good no matter how you look at it. The script is as awful as Jim Caviezel’s charleston: truly, deeply terrible, unpolished, embarrassing, even. It’s best if you just cut a wide berth around this stinker, lest its stench permeate your reasonable standards.