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Film review: Wind

Carroll Ballard is a terrific director of scenic wonders and heart-pounding action. In fact, he packs more excitement into a competition of racing sailing yachts in "Wind" than any 10 cop thrillers.

His earlier films, "The Black Stallion" and "Never Cry Wolf," a pair of excellent outdoor adventures, are triumphs of stunning cinematography, visual style and enchanting stories.

But "Wind" has two very serious flaws — it's far too long and the romance at its center is very poorly conceived.

The story is a fictionalization of a true event — when the America's Cup was lost by the United States for the first time in 140 years, as Australia took it for a season.

The film casts Matthew Modine as a helmsman on wealthy, yacht-racing veteran Cliff Robertson's American ship as their team goes up against the Australian challengers (led by Jack Thompson). Modine's girlfriend (Jennifer Grey) is initially part of the team but is dropped, both because her relationship with Modine is seen as dispiriting to the rest of the team and because she is — horrors! — a woman.

So, she takes off and Modine and Robertson take on Thompson, losing the race in disgrace. This plunges both into deep depression and Modine bums around the country while Robertson turns into Howard Hughes (in his eccentric, recluse era).

Eventually, Modine finds Grey, who is working in the middle of the desert, in Dead Man's Flat, Nev. (These sequences were actually filmed here in Utah, on the salt flats).

She's taken up with an eccentric European inventor (Stellan Skarsgard), and they are working on glider prototypes. Modine strikes up a friendship with him, and they begin working on a prototype for a new sailing ship.

Eventually, with help from Robertson's daughter (Rebecca Miller), who raises money for the project, they build the boat and Modine gathers his old team together to challenge Thompson in the next America's Cup race.

And it's "Rocky Goes Sailing."

Modine is enjoyable in the lead and Grey delivers an ingratiating, spunky performance. But the second leads, Skarsgard and Miller, often steal the show, providing much-needed humor to lighten things up. Thompson is solid, as usual, but Robertson's character gets a bit too silly in the film's second half.

"Wind" certainly has the gorgeous look of a Ballard film, along with those riveting racing scenes. But in the end, the screenplay, by Australian writer Mac Gudgeon ("Ground Zero") and American Rudy Wurlitzer ("Voyager"), is loaded with too many idiotic contrivances and flat dialogue.

Still, it's worth a look if the subject interests you.

It is rated PG-13 for nudity, profanity, vulgarity, sex and violence.