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"AMERICAN UNDERDOG"
(2021) (Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A quarterback must deal with setbacks and obstacles, all while starting and then maintaining a relationship with a divorced woman and her kids, as he tries to make it to the NFL.
PLOT:

Kurt Warner (ZACHARY LEVI) has always dreamed of being a professional quarterback in the NFL, but he barely gets a chance to play in college where he's the roommate to Mike Hudnutt (SER'DARIUS BLAIN), one of the team's offensive linemen. Things look up a bit when he meets Brenda Meoni (ANNA PAQUIN), a divorced mom of two who's going to nursing school, and despite her having two kids, Jesse and Zack (HAYDEN ZALLER) -- who ended up nearly blind and with brain damage from an accidental drop when he was a few months old -- Kurt is positive his future is with all of them.

As is his belief that he's destined to be a pro quarterback, but that's tested when he's not drafted, followed by his first tryout with a team that only lasts a day, resulting in him ending up bagging groceries before being asked to play for an Arena League team. All of which eventually leads to a tryout with the St. Louis Rams. But he must impress head coach Dick Vermeil (DENNIS QUAID) and offensive coordinator Mike Martz (CHANCE KELLY) that he's what they need, or else his dream will likely be gone forever.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

Despite having never lived in nor even visited the namesake city, I've been a lifelong fan of the Detroit Lions (cue the sounds of a sad trombone and/or sympathetic audience). With the current season being a rebuilding year, there haven't been too many bright spots, but one of them revolves around a player with a unique nickname.

And that would be "Netflix," a.k.a. Craig Reynolds, a 25-year-old player who went undrafted out of Kutztown University, and bounced around a few teams over the years -- getting just one cumulative run and pass completion -- and then got a call to show up in Detroit for the preseason. It was such late notice and thanks to other delays, he literally introduced himself to his new teammates in the huddle during a game.

But as things would have it, he didn't make the final cut and thus he was looking for insurance jobs when injuries and Covid absences resulted in another callback. This time he got to play in a real game, did well, and then received national attention with his play the following week.

Given the "Netflix" nickname for reportedly watching that when he got his earlier call, it's still too early to know how things will play out for him. But it does remind one of a somewhat similar rags to riches story from a few decades earlier that did have a happy ending.

And that was the tale of Kurt Warner who went from grocery store employee to Super Bowl MVP in a short manner of time following a series of similar setbacks and disappointments. His tale, which includes his relationship with his wife and her two kids at the time, serves as the basis for "American Underdog."

As directed by brothers Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin from a script by the latter along with David Aaron Cohen and Jon Gunn (who've adapted Warner and Michael Silver's book, "All Things Possible"), it's something of a by the numbers story, but an engaging, entertaining and winning one at that. As the film begins, we hear Kurt (Zachary Levi) doing some voice-over narration that one of the best qualities a quarterback can have is the ability to stay calm in the pocket, get hit, have the will to get up, and then do that all again.

That certainly describes Warner as we see him trying to live out his dream of becoming an NFL quarterback only to find himself a bench warmer for most of his time at the University of Northern Iowa, before finally getting the green light his senior year. That gets him enough attention to think he might be selected in the NFL draft, but that doesn't happen, a disappointment he shares with his new girlfriend, Brenda (Anna Paquin).

She's happy, however, that he's still sticking around with her despite being a divorced mom of two kids, one of which is disabled (played by Hayden Zaller) due to a brain injury much earlier in his young life. Theirs is one of those "meet cute" romances often seen in movies, and the charming aura about them certainly scores viewer points early on, mainly from seeing that Kurt is a good guy through and through.

What follows are opportunities and setbacks on a repeat cycle, all of which make him come off as a true underdog. Granted, since probably everyone who's going to see this movie already knows how things play out, there's not a lot of tension in terms of the "will he or won't he succeed" question to be answered in the third act (or fourth quarter if you'd like to keep the football parlance going).

But thanks to the performances, chemistry between the main characters, decent direction, and an engaging enough story, it's quite likely viewers both familiar with the story and otherwise new to the tale will be rooting for Warner to succeed. Of course, he ultimately does, just like the movie about him.

If you love underdog-themed stories where protagonists overcome the odds and disappointments only to keep on keeping on, you'll probably enjoy the flick. I did, even if it's not about a Detroit Lion, and thus rate "American Underdog" a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed December 6, 2021 / Posted December 25, 2021


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