Monday, September 1

Review: When the Game Stands Tall

There are cliched sports movies, then there are cliched narrative disasters like When the Game Stands Tall. I saw this movie over the weekend, and it is undoubtedly the second worst sports movie of all time. Nothing will ever come close to the JV production titled Facing the Giants, but this movie sure tried hard.

The film follows a high school football team in California, on a 150+ game winning streak. In an attempt to make a seemingly not-adverse storyline seem deathly adverse, all kinds of ridiculous plot twists were strewn in during the two hour movie. The upcoming senior class is complacent. The coach smokes one cigarette and immediately has a heart attack. The graduated star running back, heading to Oregon, is murdered (and that plot thread basically ends immediately). The team is too cocky. The coach is getting offers from DI schools. The opponents are too big. The powerhouse football program has to play a lot of players on both offense and defense. It's too hot outside. The star RB's dad is too involved. The list goes on and on.

Newsflash, besides the death of a player (which was barely mentioned for the rest of the movie), there is no real adversity here. So what if a powerhouse private school that obviously recruits and has a budget the size of Canada's GDP lost a game. They went on to win the state title anyway. In order to make the path to a 13th (!!!) consecutive state title seem hard, they had to invent an outrageous plotline about the star player's dad desperately wanting his son to get the season touchdown record. In an act of apparent rebellion and team unity, the running back takes a knee instead of breaking the record, just to spite his old man. This is the climax of the movie. A running back took a knee with one minute left in a blowout before winning the state championship. High drama.

Jim Caviezel's lifeless performance certainly didn't help the movie either. The guy spoke in a single, hushed tone, no matter if he was in the hospital after a heart attack or in the state final. I assume he's there because he played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, as this movie was clearly marketed as a Christian story, despite only featuring the briefest and most politically correct mentions of the faith. The team did say the Lord's Prayer, but there was just enough crowd noise during the triumphant football action montage to overshadow it.

The turning point of the movie came after the team lost two games in a row and headed to a VA hospital. One player somehow ends up getting into a treadmill race against a veteran with a prosthetic leg. The veteran wins, shakes the boy's hand and the season is saved. The team then practices very hard all week and somehow goes from 0-2 bums with no talent or motivation, to good enough to beat the best team in the country.

It was also abundantly clear that Dick's Sporting Goods underwrote this movie, as there were several blatant product placement scenes. One of the more dramatic confrontations between the overbearing dad and his son actually occurred outside of the store, with 2014's latest apparel showing in the window's during this 2004 period piece. Dick's shopping bags were as much of a part of the movie as the football itself. I'm surprised the funeral of the fallen player wasn't held in the shoe section of the store.

And Michael Chiklis' performance as an assistant coach was nothing more than him taking off his hat 400 times and yelling "WE PRACTICED THIS!" at his players during the game. Keep gettin' them checks, Chiklis.

This movie had good intentions, but fell flat on its face by trying to tell a tale of overcoming adversity, when there was no adversity to begin with in the first place. Toss in about 20 complications, sports cliches jammed in left and right, a poor lead performance and a plot that was all over the map, and you have When the Game Stands Tall. I think I need to pop in Friday Night Lights or Remember the Titans and cleanse my palate.

By Aaron Brandt, winner of a fantasy football league in 2011.