AMERICAN UNDERDOG (2021)
Starring Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin, Dennis Quaid, Chance Kelly, Cindy Hogan, Ser’Darius Blain, Adam Baldwin, Bruce McGill, Danny Vinson, Hayden Zaller, Cora Kate Wilkerson, OJ Keith Simpson, Nic Harris and Beau Hart.
Screenplay by Jon Erwin & David Aaron Cohen and Jon Gunn.
Directed by The Erwin Brothers (Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin).
Distributed by Lionsgate. 112 minutes. Rated PG.
For a few decades now, Hollywood has been making inspirational movies about unlikely sports heroes – true life stories of athletes whose careers appeared to be stalled out when they get just one more shot at the big time. Some of these films include The Rookie (about pitcher Jim Morris), Invincible (about football player Vince Papale), Miracle (about the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team) and Rudy (about college football player Daniel Ruttinger).
With Kurt Warner, they have hit upon possibly the most interesting story of them all. After all, in the other films mentioned the athletes were pretty much journeymen players who barely made a splash in their sports – although they deserve props for just getting there at all.
Kurt Warner, on the other hand, actually made a very significant impact on his sport. After all of his hard knocks, when he finally got the opportunity to play in the pros, he was the best quarterback in the NFL for several years, and the engine to arguably the best offensive team ever. He was a two-time league MVP and won the Super Bowl, also becoming the Super Bowl MVP. (He also played in two other Super Bowls which his team ended up losing.)
Not bad for an undrafted free agent who was so desperate for a job that he spent three years playing in the Arena Football League. In fact, he was working bagging groceries when he was finally signed to the arena league. (He had briefly been signed to the Green Bay Packers earlier in his career but was released quickly in training camp.)
So Kurt Warner has the most intriguing story for this kind of film for which you could possibly hope. And with the video release of American Underdog coinciding with the Rams (now back in their original home of Los Angeles) winning their first Super Bowl championship since Warner took them to the top in 1999, the time seems ripe to share his story.
Too bad despite having a remarkable story, he’s just not particularly interesting as a person. He’s kind of white bread and dull and a little preachy – which may explain why it took so long for Warner’s history to be made into a film.
American Underdog did make the interesting narrative choice in focusing on Warner’s (Zachary Levy) hard-knock years trying to get signed and his budding relationship with his wife Brenda (played by Anna Paquin in a very unfortunate hairdo) rather than his NFL career. He isn’t approached by the Rams until an hour and fifteen minutes into the film and the climax shows his first game with the team.
His backstory is endlessly intriguing, though – at least the football parts. Following his trajectory from college football benchwarmer, to star, to non-draftee, to stock boy, to the circus atmosphere of the old Arena Football League, the film finds sports film catnip.
By the time St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil decided he saw something in Warner and decided to give him a shot, the audience is all in on Warner’s story. By coincidence Vermeil – who was just finally enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year – was also the coach of Vince Papale, subject of the earlier mentioned film Invincible. (Dennis Quaid plays Vermeil in this film, Greg Kinnear was Vermeil in Invincible.)
Unfortunately, much of American Underdog revolves around Warner’s relationship with Brenda and her two kids, how he found love and became a more giving, present, faith-driven man. (And how he learned to come to love country music.) Honestly while it is nice that he found true love, a happy family and serenity in his relationship with God, as well as an appreciation for the works of Garth Brooks, these parts are by far the least interesting sections of the film.
However, even with some slow and preachy moments, Kurt Warner’s career trajectory is so captivating that it was inevitable that American Underdog would be a convincing win.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2022 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 22, 2022.