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‘Blue Miracle’ skillful in employing tried-and-true underdog tropes

There’s a reason studios keep cranking out sports-underdog films loosely based on a true story: It’s because they work.

Go ahead and list some titles: “Cinderella Man,” “Invincible,” “Miracle,” “A Perfect Game,” “Glory Days,” “Invictus,” “Cool Runnings,” “A League of Their Own” — all terrific!

To this auspicious list you can add the charming “Blue Miracle,” an unheralded little 2021 gem currently streaming on Netflix.

The film is set at a Mexican orphanage in coastal Cabo San Lucas. Run by the financially strapped “Papa Omar” and his hard-working wife — who are limping along under crushing debt — the makeshift “Casa Hogar” suffers further damage when 2014’s Hurricane Odile wreaks havoc on the area.

As it happens, the storm has likewise curtailed entries in Cabo’s Bisbee Black & White fishing match — so the contest waives fees for all local anglers.

Enter the down-on-his-luck Wade Malloy (Dennis Quaid), a crusty old salt who long ago won the contest twice in a row, but who is now in such straits that he can’t even afford to sign up — because he hails from San Diego.

So Malloy reluctantly teams up with Omar and a few ragtag orphans, all hoping to split the $1 million prize for bagging the biggest blue marlin.

On the surface, “Blue Miracle” looks like something of a button-pusher — marshalling such standard tropes as broken families, needy kids, sporting underdogs, one very troubled teen and two adults wrestling for redemption from a tragic past.

But the movie never tries too hard; its dialog and characterization are solid, vetted by strong location filming and excellent performances all around.

Quaid still has the goods, sinking his teeth into this character in several strong scenes; even better is Jimmy Gonzales, whose Papa Omar is both low-key and engaging. The kids are good too, aided by veteran character actor Bruce McGill as the tournament’s namesake.

And the movie looks luscious, with a title-themed color palette in virtually every scene.

Casa Hogar, for instance, has a set of windows tinted blue and purple, casting lovely light over many interiors. Santiago Benet Mari’s photography is absolutely gorgeous.

Best of all, the story highlights such old-fashioned virtues as courage, self-sacrifice, honesty, integrity, prayer, commitment, faith and cooperation — all without ever feeling preachy, pushy or artificial.

Nationwide critics have been kind if restrained; but when you look at user-reviews, you see a lot of 8’s, 9’s and 10’s — a sure sign of strong popular appeal.

In a cinematic sea swimming with would-be summer blockbusters, Netflix has landed a real “line-burner”; that’s another word for blue marlin — and “Blue Miracle.”

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