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Gridiron Gang (9/10)

by Tony Medley

This is an exceptional movie in many different respects. For instance, it’s a movie populated by imprisoned teenagers, mostly gangbangers, yet the “f” word is not used once. In fact, although the language is frank, it’s language that really isn’t so bad that children couldn’t see it.

Another thing I liked it is that none of the actors are from the Sean Penn School of Acting. When tears are called for, they are shed, even by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Coach Sean Porter).

Yet another is the audio. In most sports films the audio is so unrealistically loud and violent, it robs the film of credibility. In football movies they make every hit sound as if the Marines have just hit the beach. In this film, to the contrary, the sounds are the sounds you would hear if you were playing in a real football game, mainly the sounds of pads crunching when players collide. The game is violent, but the violence is not exacerbated by idiotically loud sounds accompanying each hit. Helping the audio is the music by Trevor Rabin, which always kept on the right side of the fine line separating mood from maudlin.

So that’s three straight hits for this touching film in which juvenile camp detention officer Porter, along with his compatriot, Malcolm Moore (Xzibit), turn a group of hardcore teenage criminals into a high school football team in four weeks. Director Phil Joanou deserves kudos for making a film, based on the documentary “Gridiron Gang,” and written by Jeff Maguire, into something so compelling, when it could have descended into derivative bathos. I went not expecting much, frankly. But when I left I felt emotionally drained. I didn’t say anything about it until my friend mentioned that she was exhausted after watching it. The film has everything to make a film entertaining, conflict, laughter, and tears. In addition to The Rock, Trever O’Brien, who plays troubled wide receiver Kenny Bates, is called on to shed tears over his relationship with his mother.

The only character I felt was miscast was Jade Yorker, who plays star running back Willie Weathers. Yorker’s acting is first rate, as he starts the movie as a reluctant, angry gangbanger. But when he is called upon to be a tough running back who can run over and through the athletic The Rock (who was a high school All-American and star defensive lineman for the University of Miami Hurricanes National Champions), it strains credulity to the breaking point. Yorker might be athletic, but he’s no football player and he couldn’t run over The Rock in a million years.

Even though the film lasts approximately two full hours, I never felt compelled to look at my watch, which is high praise for me.

September 16, 2006