Will Ferrell is to this movie (and pretty much any movie he is in) what the Italian ringers are to the soccer team his character coaches in the film. As long as he keeps getting the ball, he scores.
Ferrell’s shtick is his imperishable innocence. Everything is always completely new to him and every response from him is completely fresh and blissfully un-self-conscious. We know what will happen and we know we can’t help loving him for it. Like a perpetual baby enchanted with the world or a benign alien experiencing Earth for the first time, Ferrell always reacts with absolute freshness, openness, directness, and purity. He can’t seem to hold onto more than one emotion at at time. So, each feeling is complete and each one takes him over completely. He has no ability to hold anything back or try to seem cool and on top of things. When he cries, he gives it everything he has. Many comedians draw humor from trying to look cool, but Ferrell barely seems to grasp that there is such a thing as coolness. Because his responses are always as sweet as they are silly, we laugh and we love him every single time.
When Phil (Ferrell’s character) is first presented with a cup of coffee, he looks at it like Eve looked at the apple, a mix of dread, longing, and utter fascination. When he discovers how delicious it is, he goes all out. Assuming everyone is as new to the world as he is, he happily explains to another customer that the coffee is very, very HOT. Then he starts mainlining it, lugging an espresso machine to the soccer games.
Phil’s father, the intensely competitive Buck (Robert Duvall), always made Phil feel inadequate and unappreciated. Buck is the coach of The Gladiators, the soccer team that includes Phil’s son, Sam, and Buck’s other son, Bucky, who is Sam’s age and an outstanding athlete. Phil’s insecurity and disappointment turn to “a tornado of anger” when Buck trades his own grandson, Phil’s son, Sam. Phil decides he will coach Sam’s new team, the last-place Tigers. He invites Buck’s next-door neighbor and arch-nemesis to be assistant coach. The neighbor happens to be the legendary coach of the Superbowl champion Chicago Bears, Mike Ditka.
Okay, we all know what happens in movies about scrappy little underdog sports teams. Everyone learns some important lessons about teamwork and what winning really means. And there are a lot of meant-to-be-funny moments along the way. If most don’t make it all the way to “funny,” many qualify as mildly amusing. Ditka turns out to have a great screen presence and top-notch comic timing and Ferrell is always a treat, especially when he’s jonesing for a coffee hit or doing his best to channel Ditka. That’s enough to keep a soccer team of 10-year-olds happy.
Parents should know that there is some crude material in this movie, including bathroom humor, and comedy based on lesbian mothers, a sex-change wisecrack, a child eating worms, characters covered with cow’s blood after helping out in a butcher shop, and a sports store’s slogan: “I’ve got BALLS!” Characters use some harsh schoolyard insults and brief strong language (“screwed up,” “go to hell”). Some audience members may be disturbed by the pressure the coaches put on the kids (though the point of the movie is clearly against that behavior) or some rude comments by the kids to the adults. There is comic violence, including characters getting hit in the crotch. Some family members may be disturbed by a father re-marrying and having another child or by a coach telling his team to “play dirty and don’t get caught.”
Families who see this movie should talk about how adults and children should respond when they have made mistakes. Why do we play games like soccer? Why do parents sometimes feel competitive with or on behalf of their children? Why is it important to learn how to accept a compliment?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the many films about scrappy underdog sports teams, including Sandlot, Rookie of the Year, The Mighty Ducks, Air Bud, and The Bad News Bears (very strong language). They will also enjoy The Rookie.