Phil Joanou, USA, 2006, 120 mins
Cast: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Xzibit, L. Scott Caldwell,
Review by Matthew Rodgers
First down and 10. The line of scrimmage.
Quarterback blitz. HB Toss. All meaningless jargon for those
unfamiliar with American Football and its history in a repetitive
sports movie genre, saturated by the offensive line-up of
Friday Night Lights, and Any Given Sunday, both of which
are fantastic movies hindered by association to a game that
has never translated very well across the pond.
Gridiron Gang’s MVP (Most Valuable Player) arrives
crashing through the defensive line in the form of The Rock
(or Dwayne Johnson as his mum calls him), playing Sean Porter
in this “based on a true story” Dangerous Minds
riff on the sports film. We are told at the start that 75
per cent of juvenile inmates return to their street gangs
or face a grisly demise on the wrong end of a bullet, and
that is a statistic that Porter is attempting to change in
getting the young, stereotyped criminals to bond by padding
up and chasing a pigskin egg.
One of the main strengths of Phil
Joanou’s film is
that it doesn’t attempt to stand out from the pack
and wears its clichés proudly on its muscular sleeves.
The warring rivals who will eventually work together, the
isolated loner who will be drawn from his shell to play a
match-winning role in the story, and the coach who is trying
to battle his own demons through his young ASBO collector’s
feats on the pitch.
It does the simple things right. The
action scenes, even if you cannot understand what’s
going on, are infectiously triumphant, and The Rock proves
once again that he deserves a chance in something a lot
more demanding because in spite of his '80s action hero
shortcomings he has bundles of charm. Additionally setting
a false sense of expectation is the film's fantastic opening
sequence which is a jarring hand held drive-by that is
shocking in that it feels out of place with the remainder
of the movie, and also in its brutal realism.
Stopping Gridiron Gang from achieving
a cinematic touchdown is the terrible script and the unshakeable
feeling of over familiarity. The long running time used
to tell the simple triumph over adversity message follows
a tedious pattern of game montage intersected with monologues
that are accompanied by daytime television soundtrack music
which grows in intensity the more serious the message.
To paraphrase “You have
a heart, and I have complete faith in you, because you are
a winner, not a loser, with a big heart that is full of faith...” is
regurgitated in numerous forms.
Interestingly it is Gridiron Gang’s
closing credits that provide the most disappointment. Not
because an enjoyably throwaway movie has finished, but
because they are accompanied by footage from the Emmy Award
winning documentary of the same name. It is in these few
brief clips that you see more emotion, and inspiration
than in any of the sun-bleached MTV visuals that have preceded