(2023) (Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Dramedy: A disgraced basketball coach must fulfill ninety days of community service by coaching a basketball team made up of young people with special needs.
At one point, Marcus Markovich (Woody Harrelson) was an up-and-coming basketball coach with a promising career, but his behavior led to his downfall. The most recent incident stems from pushing his head coach, Phil (Ernie Hudson), during a game, followed by a drunk driving crash that results in a sentence of ninety days of community service. That involves coaching a team of young people with special needs at a rec center managed by Julio (Cheech Marin).
Known as The Friends, the team consists of Johnny (Kevin Iannucci), Cody (Ashton Gunning), Craig (Matthew Von Der Ahe), Blair (Tom Sinclair), Benny (James Day Keith), Arthur (Alex Hintz), Marlon (Casey Metcalfe), and Showtime (Bradley Edens), although the most talented player, Darius (Joshua Felder), refuses to play for him, with the only young lady on the squad, Consentino (Madison Tevlin), later joining them.
While hoping that his former fellow coach Sonny (Matt Cook) can land him an NBA job through family connections, Marcus tries to get the team ready for competition, all while contending with the fact that a woman from a previous one-night stand, Alex (Kaitlin Olson), turns out to be Johnny's sister. Initially wanting just to serve his time and then get out of town for bigger and better things, Marcus ends up bonding with his players with hopes of taking them to the championship game.
- OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
In today's politically correct and some would say "woke" world, unless you're talking about or portraying straight white men, you sort of have to tiptoe around any potential landmines, so to speak, that could blow up if more than one person ends up offended by whatever you're saying or offering.
That covers pretty much every aspect of life -- from business to sports to entertainment -- with the latter most being in the crosshairs when it comes to such use in any sort of comedy form. Standup comedians have drawn the most attention in that regard, but TV shows and movies also routinely end up in the "better watch how you say it or portray it" category, and little draws more ire than actors with no disabilities portraying characters with them.
A pair of filmmakers -- siblings Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly -- have avoided that issue by casting people with disabilities to play parts in their films such as "There's Something About Mary," "Me, Myself & Irene," "Shallow Hal," and "Stuck on You." That resulted in them receiving the Ruderman Family Foundation Honor for Disability Inclusivity in Film award a few years back.
Now Bobby is stepping out on his own in his solo directorial debut with "Champions." It's a remake of the 2018 Spanish film "Campeones" which was based on a real-life story of the Aderes basketball team in Valencia that won twelve championships with a team consisting of people with intellectual disabilities.
I never saw that film so comparisons are moot, but this time around the setting is Iowa where Woody Harrelson plays Marcus Markovich, a one-time up-and-coming basketball coach whose behavior derailed his career. That trend continues here where he ends up fired from his minor league team for pushing his head coach (Ernie Hudson) to the floor over a play call.
That results in a trip to the bar, some drunk driving, a collision with a parked police car, and the choice of more than a year in prison or ninety days of community service coaching The Friends, a local team made up of people with varying intellectual disabilities.
Working from Mark Rizzo's screenplay, Farrelly directs the flick down an all-too-familiar path. That includes, natch, the coach initially wanting no part of this and simply doing his time to finally connecting with the team and getting them to win, ultimately leaving him with the "tough" decision of going or staying once the three-month stint is up. I'll let you guess how that turns out.
While it's welcome to see the real deal in terms of casting the team, that's somewhat offset by the way their characters are written for one-note (and repeated) laughs. Johnny (Kevin Iannucci) doesn't like to bathe, Showtime (Bradley Edens) can only shoot that ball over his head backward, Craig (Matthew Von Der Ahe ) is always talking about his sexual escapades with his never-seen girlfriend, Consentino (Madison Tevlin) aggressively tells it like it is, and so on.
The only one who gets a halfway decent fleshing out is Johnny, and that's only because his sister, Alex (Kaitlin Olson), finishes up her opening scene one-night stand with Marcus by giving him a double middle finger salute on her way out.
Despite that less-than-promising start, they end up in a subplot relationship that likewise follows a well-worn trajectory, all while Cheech Marin isn't given much to do as the manager of the rec center where the team practices and plays.
In the end, it's all sort of a mixed bag where some viewers will welcome the representation of characters with disabilities, while others might cringe at most of them being portrayed as goofy oddballs. Beyond that, the plot is as rote as they come, but there's enough decent humor and a few heartwarming moments that result in "Champions" getting a slight recommendation and a score of 5.5 out of 10.
Posted March 10, 2023
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