What is it about football movies? I don’t even like football, but I am a sucker for a good football movie. I’m even a sucker for a pretty good one like this lightweight but likeable story about players called in when the team goes on strike. It’s sort of “Rocky” crossed with “The Longest Yard,” “The Dirty Dozen,” and “The Bad News Bears.”
Gene Hackman plays Jimmy McGinty, a former coach of the Washington Sentinals football team brought back by the owner (Jack Warden)when the players go on strike. The other teams quickly hire professionals, but McGinty has been keeping a file of talented players who for one reason or another, have never played pro ball. One had an injured knee, one is in prison, one is deaf, one is a Welsh soccer player, one is a sumo wrestler, and one, Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) was a college superstar who quit after a disastrous showing at the Sugar Bowl.
Not that I’m trying to spoil the ending or anything, but this is definitely a feel-good movie, and if we have to suspend a little disbelief with regard to a few small issues, oh, well, we don’t go to summer movies to think too hard.
What we do go to summer movies for is to enjoy ourselves, and that we do. As McGinty says, these guys get “what every athlete dreams of, a second chance.” They get to play for the love of the game and the challenge of defeating the other guys and their own demons. Loners get to be a part of a team. Their time on the field may be brief, but they leave forever changed. We get to see “everyday guys” playing in the big league. It is a delicious fantasy and just plain fun to watch.
Director Howard Deutch takes no chances, loading up the soundtrack with every classic sports movie standard from “We Will Rock You” to Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll, Part II,” and adding in some replacement cheerleaders who come from a strip club for some sizzle. It all comes together nicely. There are some very funny spots along the way, including a prison cell rendition of “I Will Survive” and a stripper-led cheer that distracts the opposing team at a crucial moment. The romance between Falco and head cheerleader Annabelle Farrell (Brooke Langton) is handled nicely, making it clear that it is not until he begins to feel better about himself that he can allow himself to get close to her. The team’s growing sense of loyalty and dignity and the coach’s faith in them are warmly portrayed. And, when all else fails, the football games are a hoot.
Parents should know that the movie includes some salty language, sexual references, and highly suggestive cheerleader moves. There is also substantial violence on and off the field, mostly punching and shoving, and a few mildly gross moments as well. Characters smoke and drink, and there are scenes in bars.
Families who see this movie should talk about what it is that makes people feel good about themselves, how a leader can make all the difference on a team, and whether fame and money hurt professional athletes and sports. Families should also talk about the coach’s comment that the difference between a winner and a loser is that a winner gets back on the horse and keeps trying.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “M*A*S*H” and “The Longest Yard” (both for mature audiences).