Life is full of challenges, complications and setbacks, and it's how one deals with them that determines his or her character. Some get by through pluck and perseverance, others with luck, and the rest with the aid of others, whether that's family, friends or maybe even something along the lines of guardian angels.
In the case of aspiring soccer player Santiago Munez, some of all of the above is present, but the majority of the assistance comes from screenwriters Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais and Mike Jeffries and Adrian Butchart. Then again, those scribes are also the character's tormentors in "Goal! The Dream Begins," a mediocre and cliché-ridden sports drama. In it, Kuno Becker plays the illegal Mexican immigrant living in Los Angeles -- talk of timeliness in terms of current headlines -- with his supportive grandmother, younger brother and their doubting Thomas father (played by Tony Plana).
In a prime example of cinematic abuse, the writing quartet sets up Santiago's dreams of being a soccer star and then places all sorts of obstacles in his path. Many seem insurmountable, which can lead to compelling drama since even the best underdog sports flicks thrive on some variation of that very storytelling mechanism.
Yet, like any twisted abuser, the wicked scribes give his character an easy pass out of one predicament only to slap him down again with another. At one point, and after the story has moved from Los Angeles to England where Santiago is trying to make the reserve squad for Newcastle United, the team's owner -- a fine Marcel Iures -- even comments on the young man's unlikely luck when it comes to second chances.
I'm glad someone in the film finally noticed as surely everyone watching it will have come to the same conclusion long before the final kick is made. That said, Becker has something of a magnetic presence as Santiago (occasionally looking and even sounding a bit like Brit pop superstar Robbie Williams -- yes, his accent even seems to waver, perhaps through osmosis), which might explain his huge popularity in the Hispanic TV market.
He's believable enough on the field -- despite some obvious computer assisted ball movement -- but isn't quite up to the task when it comes to kicking around all of the drama. Or, for that matter, all of the clichés and sports movie conventions the writers and director Danny Cannon seem intent on trotting out.
From the lack of paternal support to the fellow rookie, to the need to learn teamwork and the montages of training (including the obligatory scene featuring the owner/coach seeing the player practicing all by himself after everyone else has gone home), there isn't much in this film that you haven't already seen (although more so in other sports than in soccer that, like the real deal, hasn't gotten as much attention stateside as around the rest of the world).
The result of those two faults is that we're not as engaged as much with the characters and thus the outcomes of the games as we should be. While other sports films are also formulaic and predictable, some of them nevertheless manage to be compelling and occasionally can even get yours truly to root, root, root for their success. Here, the roller coaster ride of daunting obstacles followed by easy solutions means we don't ever worry that Santiago will eventually succeed (or at least go down trying in the final game or moment, which ever that should be, having given it his all).
The same holds true for subplots featuring Anna Friel as the love interest, or Alessandro Nivola as the highly paid and regarded but egotistical and ultimately non-productive soccer star (who, natch, eventually has a change of heart so that he can regain some of his former glory). Meanwhile, Stephen Dillane is good as the former footballer and professional scout who "discovers" Santiago. With a bit more fleshing out, his character and story possibly could have been more interesting and compelling than the one with which we're stuck.
Given plenty of opportunity to shoot, score and get that famous announcer to yell out "Goal" as if the word contained thirty L's, the film isn't horrible by any means, but its mediocrity and contrived script deprive it of getting one off past this goalkeeper.