Saturday, August 23, 2014

'When the Game Stands Tall' review

I am so ready for the Oscar season. Summer got off to a great start, but in the last month, I've seen enough insignificant, disposable films to last a lifetime. There have been a few good films (Guardians of the Galaxy, What If and Expendables 3) and one monumental, brilliant achievement (Boyhood), yet I've also seen a lot of mediocre movies that are instantly forgettable. When the Game Stands Tall is one of those movies. This is a prime example of how to not make a sports movie. The cliches come early and often and the dialogue is awful. Every character says essentially nothing but inspirational quotes and there's no real emotional investment in the people in this film. I couldn't help but smile at the last few scenes, but honestly, it's really hard to screw up football scenes. None of the positives overwhelm the fact that this is a generic, cliched Lifetime movie that is being put into theaters for whatever reason. It's just bad.

For a long time, De La Salle High School in Concord, California had the most esteemed football program in the nation. They won a grand total of 151 games in a row and several state championships along the way. A lot of that success came from Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), who taught the boys about family, respect and honor. However, all good things must come to an end and for De La Salle, a lot of good things ended at once.

First, Coach Lad had a heart attack and ended up in the hospital for several months. After that, a popular graduate of De La Salle was killed in a tragic shooting and the team lost a lot of confidence. And finally, the team ended the streak, losing two games in a row. The team is lost and disheveled and Coach Lad must find a way to get them all to band together and he does that by stressing honor, brotherhood and other Christian values. The other subplot involves a star running back (Alexander Ludwig), who is on the verge of breaking a record, and his abusive father. In the end, all of these players must come together and stand tall to reclaim their glory.

I love good sports movies. Hoosiers, Miracle, Remember the Titans, Field of Dreams, Million Dollar Arm- all of those movies are really, really good. And I have no doubt in my mind that When the Game Stands Tall could have been a great movie. It's a solid enough story and it hits all the right beats. Unfortunately, this film practically bathes in cliches and the dialogue is so incredibly atrocious. It honestly felt like none of the screenwriters actually knew how real humans talked. It made the movie painful, repetitive and simply bland. In more talented hands, this could have been better, but for now, it's just boring Hallmark fluff.

The characters in this movie are all relatively boring and useless, except for a select few. Coach Lad is a likable fellow, but if he really speaks in real life like he does in the movie, I can't believe that he's gotten so many players to play for him. Every line of dialogue out of Coach Lad's mouth is like an over dramatic sermon and it gets annoying fast. Caviezel does what he can with the lackluster script, though he's still pretty bland. Laura Dern plays Ladouceur's wife and is also hurt by terrible dialogue. She either has one word sentences to shout out or long sermons to read and Dern is completely wasted.

On the other side of things, I was impressed by Michael Chiklis, who plays the main assistant coach. He brings an electric energy that this movie desperately needs and is pretty good. He manages to overcome the awful dialogue in a way that the others can't. Also, I was interested in the story of Chris Ryan, played by Alexander Ludwig and his insane dad, played by Clancy Brown. The two characters actually speak like human beings for a change and bring some real drama to the film. Both actors do a good job and the subplot keeps the movie afloat near the end.

I've mentioned it several times throughout this review, but I have to say it again: the script for this movie is awful. Aggressively bad. So bad I wanted to punch the screen. There is no realistic dialogue whatsoever. It's some of the worst movie dialogue I've ever heard. Cliched, over dramatized and just plain bad.

However, the football scenes are great. That's about the only good thing I can say about When the Game Stands Tall. The action is exciting and there is a little bit of that inspirational side that the producers were going for. All of the football scenes take place during the second half of the film, which makes that half much more exciting. If only the scenes where people are talking were just as good.

Honestly, this is a Lifetime movie posing as a movie worth seeing in theaters. The football scenes are solid, but beyond that, there's very little of interest in this movie. We've seen stories like this done much better before and it makes this movie an incredibly boring one to watch. When the Game Stands Tall had potential, but it just couldn't overcome its terrible script and ultimately uninteresting story.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C-                                                (5/10)

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