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"WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL"
(2014) (Jim Caviezel, Alexander Ludwig) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sports Drama: A successful high school football coach must contend with the challenges of keeping his team's record win streak alive and what to do should his latest squad fail at that.
PLOT:
It's 2003 and De La Salle High School coach Bob Ladouceur (JIM CAVIEZEL) has once again led his Spartan football team through an undefeated, championship season, extending their winning streak to 151 games. But with stars Cam Colvin (SER'DARIUS BLAIN) and T.K. Kelly (STEPHAN JAMES) having graduated, he and assistant coach Terry Eidson (MICHAEL CHIKLIS) are concerned about whether the rising class of seniors can help the rest of the team rise to the occasion and play to the best of their abilities.

That's particularly true of Tayshon Lanear (JESSIE USHER), a talented but cocky kid who only believes in himself and doesn't think he needs to practice. That puts him at odds with Bob's son, Danny (MATTHEW DADDARIO), who's on the team as a receiver, as well as star running back Chris Ryan (ALEXANDER LUDWIG). He's facing pressure of another kind, namely from his overbearing, glory-seeking father, Mickey (CLANCY BROWN), who wants him to break the state scoring record.

At the same time, Bob's wife, Bev (LAURA DERN), is concerned that he's being more of a coach than a father to Danny and their other kids, and that he's working too hard. That comes to a head when a heart attack sidelines the coach and threatens their upcoming season. Undeterred, quarterback Rick Salinas (RICHARD KOHNKE), defensive end Joe Beaser (JOE MASSINGILL), Chris, Danny and the rest do what they can to deal with the various pressures of the game and season, especially with the win streak looming above them.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Funny and sometimes irritating things occasionally happen during press screenings that clearly result in something different than what the filmmaker and releasing studio were obviously intending. I've seen prints catch on fire and burn up, as well as reels that were out of order (thus unintentionally giving those pics a Tarantino-esque feel). The granddaddy of them all, of course, was one of the "Lord of the Rings" pics where two of the reels were upside down and backwards, all of which turned a three-hour movie into a five-hour experience (since the film had to be taken off the reel, flipped, and then put back on each time).

Not quite as severe as that was a recent press screening of "When the Game Stands Tall," the true-life tale of De La Salle High School football coach Bob Ladouceur leading his various teams to 151 straight victories over 12 years. Near the end, when everything is about to wrap up, the audio suddenly cut out, thus prompting a fellow critic (already ticked off that the film started more than 30 minutes late due to technical issues) to supply (sometimes hilariously so) the voices of both Laura Dern (playing the coach's concerned wife) and another parent (Clancy Brown) who's pushing his star running back son (Alexander Ludwig) hard to break the state school record for scoring.

Then the usual pre-show audio kicked in, including -- appropriately enough -- Denzel Washington talking about teamwork with the Boys and Girls Clubs, and then the old-fashioned ditty "Let's all go to the lobby..." I guess that was our cue that the film was over, and I don't think too many viewers were upset about being so unceremoniously but certainly unusually ushered out of the film that had already long-overstayed its welcome through its scheduled nearly two-hour runtime.

And that's despite the pic's obvious good intentions, positive messages about teamwork, faith and such. It's just that we've seen enough football related movies that if something new isn't thrown into the mix -- and if it's filled with one montage after another -- it just ends up being monotonous and fairly boring. I'm a big football fan, and the fact that Ladouceur accomplished what he did is pretty spectacular. But the film isn't, which is a shame.

After capping off the season with that 151st victory, the coach (Jim Caviezel, having some decent moments but otherwise looking like someone suffering from constipation) and his assistant (Michael Chiklis) are concerned that the next set of starters -- including a talented but cocky player (Jessie Usher) -- aren't showing the sort of leadership and teamwork exhibited by those who are leaving. Those include two guys (Ser'Darius Blain and Stephan James) who appear headed to college together and destined for great things. Dern's character is concerned that her husband is more coach than father to their son (Matthew Daddario) who's on the team, while the coach must contend with big job offers elsewhere as well as fans and others more concerned with the win streak than in the molding of admirable young men.

I have no idea how closely Scott Marshall Smith's screenplay adheres to reality, but it is somewhat intriguing to have the mighty team lose in their season opener and then face their own and others' reactions to that "shocking" turn of events. There's also a sudden heart attack, the murder of a former player, and another who feels he's a deadly jinx to anyone in his life, as well as a visit to a VA hospital showing some of America's finest going through rehab (the latter as an attempt to show the players what courage, teamwork and such is all about).

Some of that introduces interesting elements into the mix, but director Thomas Carter ("Coach Carter," "Save the Last Dance") doesn't manage to get it all to gel together as cohesively as one would like, let alone hold the viewer's attention throughout. For instance, there's a fair amount of initial focus paid to Blain and James' high school graduate characters (including some fairly pivotal moments), but then they all but disappear from the story.

Granted, the filmmakers had to make way for the roughly five million montages that populate much of the film's duration. Another critic and I routinely guess-predict how many such filler sequences will be in flicks like this, but I ended up losing count as well as interest in maintaining the running tally simply since I didn't really care about the story or its characters.

While it's not awful and has a smattering of decent, if scattered moments, this is a fairly bland sports drama offering, and one where the rest of the world won't ever get to experience the closing ad-libbed dialogue and musical exit cue like we did. Let's all go to the lobby indeed. "When The Game Stands Tall" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.




Reviewed August 19, 2014/ Posted August 22, 2014


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