Shifting Gears

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Shifting Gears Movie Poster Image
Predictable racing dramedy explores father-son relationships
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 101 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Advocates perseverance and strong communication between fathers and sons. Be true to oneself and personal goals. "Forget about what you don't have; see what you do have." 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Well-meaning dad learns lessons about commitment, communication, encouraging kids to follow their dreams. Challenged by feeling powerless and victimized, he becomes assertive and self-assured. Teen son stands by his convictions. One African American character. A female auto mechanic.


A few moments of comic jeopardy; e.g., running into bees, getting stuck in engine of car, tires roll into traffic. Father-and-son pushing match. Some car racing accidents; no injuries. 


Married couple cuddles.


Featured product placement: Cheerwine soda, Movin' On Movers, Impact helmets, Tim Fishel Motorsports, Friendship Motor Speedway. Multiple logos and banners: Quaker State, Roush Yates Engines, Carter & Kirk Paving, Sunco.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shifting Gears is a dramedy about a family starting over in a small town. A traditional story -- work-focused dad loses his job and is forced to reevaluate his priorities -- the film centers on father-son relationships with lots of time left for dirt track racing. Some slapstick action is included: A man is attacked by bees, a teen gets stuck under the hood of a car, tires roll into the street. Also, there are several accidents during a "grand national" dirt track auto race with no injuries. The villain is a stereotyped greedy and snarky businessman. The film's messages about gratitude, following one's dreams, and the importance of family are clear. It's a family-friendly but trite movie that features lots of product placement and lacks energy, particularly in the racing sequences.

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What's the story?

Tom Williamson (R. Keith Harris, who also wrote and produced) has never resolved his feelings about his recently deceased father in SHIFTING GEARS. As the film opens, Tom's job is in jeopardy. He's been victimized by his pretentious boss (C. Thomas Howell). And it's an especially challenging time for him with his own son, Jeremy (Adam Hicks), a dirt track racing enthusiast. So, when Carol (Brooke Langstron), Tom's wife, suggests they take possession of a house and gas station that his dad has left him, Tom is very reluctant. It would require a major move, uprooting the family and returning to his hometown. Not only that, Tom's sure that his dad will somehow mess it up as he always has, even from the grave. Carol reminds him that it will also mean a fresh start for all of them. Finally, Tom agrees. When they arrive at their destination, both house and business are in shambles, but they won't be deterred. Just as they begin to make headway, a local business "tycoon" (John Ratzenberger) who wants to develop the land Tom has inherited threatens to upend it all. The Williamsons are faced with an outstanding debt they didn't know existed. Their only salvation may be the upcoming Grand National Race, "the U.S. Open of Dirt Track Racing," which offers a first prize of $50,000.

Is it any good?

Though there are a few twists and surprises in store, the movie is still a routine tale that gets bogged down by dirt track racing, which isn't very compelling as a filmed spectator sport. Everyone tries hard. Coming off best is M.C. Gainey as "Dirty Harry Hawkins," a mentor-sidekick who energizes the proceedings whenever he appears. The filmmakers opt for diversity by making one of the automotive experts a female and the other an African American. Unfortunately, the bad guy is a stereotypical, buffoonish businessman who lacks both heart and smarts. M. Emmet Walsh is on hand, playing a crusty but benign old man who appears to be comic window dressing -- at least until he isn't. Other than Shifting Gears' heavy emphasis on Cheerwine Soda (featured in multiple scenes), there's nothing offensive or worrisome here. It's just not very good. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of sports movies. How do they tap into our emotions about underdogs and overcoming challenging obstacles? In what ways can a movie about sports be a "metaphor" (symbol) for life generally? How did the car racing plot in Shifting Gears serve as a metaphor for Tom's relationship with Jeremy?

  • What is meant by the statement "If the line of communication is busted, the whole thing doesn't work?" How did those words apply both to the car and to the family?

  • Think about the trio of father-son relationships that were part of Shifting Gears. In what ways were they different, and in what ways were they the same? How did the movie show the importance of confronting parent-child problems? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love sports

Themes & Topics

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