We last heard Judge Eric Profancik muttering something about assigning a film to a chain gang.
"Even though you're locked up, you're a somebody."
I like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. He's not necessarily the best actor out there, but he has great stage presence. He exudes power and personality, and that can go a long way in Hollywood. It bumped him from wrestling bumpkin to bona fide star—at least I think he's a star. I've seen most of The Rock's movies, and I think his turn in The Rundown is his best. From the best story to the best chemistry to the best action, I think that is the genre where The Rock needs to stay. His turns in more serious fare, like this and Walking Tall, aren't his strong suit. That's not to say he's not capable of a more dramatic twist, but his strength isn't in that arena. And, as a former sportsman, he should best know how to capitalize on his strengths.
Facts of the Case
Sean Porter (The Rock) is a counselor at Camp Kilpatrick, a juvenile detention center, who is frustrated by the lack of progress he's making in the lives of the young men. They get into trouble, end up at his camp, get "rehabilitated," get released, and either end up back in jail or dead. There's nothing but fighting, animosity, and anger. After the death of another one of his freshly released kids, Sean taps into his background and decides that what can help make these men rehabilitate is being on a football team. It will teach them the meaning of teamwork, being able to bring the best out of themselves while learning that not everyone is your enemy.
But Sean will have many obstacles to overcome, in not only getting the idea approved but also seeing it through to the end. Will it do any good?
What can I say about Gridiron Gang? It's yesterday's leftovers. There's absolutely nothing new in this movie. It's the latest in an interminable line of feel-good sports movies. It's all the craze these days, and though I haven't seen them, I'm reminded of Invincible and We Are Marshall. Maybe we could toss in a bit of The Rookie and Friday Night Lights for appeal? I'm tired of the inspirational, team building, we can do it, movie. The plot is so completely stale that we don't have to see one minute of the movie to now exactly what's going to happen. Bad eggs comes together, bond, and surprise everyone with their amazing victory.
Woohoo. (Note the lack of exclamation.)
Gridiron Gang is as paint-by-numbers, cookie-cutter, and banal as you can imagine. You've seen every twist, plot complication, character development, and obstacle a billion times already. And, sadly enough, this is all "based on a true story." When did life become so repetitious? I mean, working in a cubicle forty hours a week is one thing, but isn't there supposed to be spontaneity and variety out there? If so, "based on a true story" sure isn't what it used to be. Then again, "based" gives the writer room to insert every cliché possible, pandering to the lower common denominator.
I guess that's a bit harsh on the movie, which does have a good heart. But, goodness sure is a dull commodity these days. Truly, the next time we decide to draft a movie "based on real life," I beg you to please give me something new and evocative. If there's one more movie like this, I'm afraid we'll rend a tear in the space-time continuum and life as we know it will end.
Then again, maybe you like this movie. You like to see the little thugs get smacked around a bit, wake up and realize they aren't all that tough? Maybe you get a thrill from simply watching football on the big screen. Either way I say that there's plenty of existing fodder so we don't need anymore, and real football on TV is much better.
I like The Rock. Despite the glaringly pedantic nature of Gridiron Gang I have to say that The Rock and the other young actors really do try. They do their best to breathe life into lifeless roles, attempt to create freshness from stale, old bread. But it's much for naught as everyone soon falls into the rut previously defined in their oft-played role. The Rock as the tough but caring coach is acceptable but blah. The kids as bad cookies are all bad but predictable. And even Xzibit (Pimp My Ride) with his wild dreads and demeanor is nothing more than a slightly spunky sidekick. They may have acted well but you can't appreciate the work for the wanting material.
So, what's up with the DVD? Well the fine folks at Sony have put together a respectable offering for the movie. The 2.40:1 anamorphic print has realistic colors and rich blacks, solid details, and excellent contrast. The only news of note is a small splash of grain during the opening night sequence and a little bit of flicker/shimmer. For the audio, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is nicely aggressive, with clear dialogue from the center and excellent use of the surrounds and subwoofer. During the games, you'll for once feel like you're in the middle of the action.
The DVD does have a small selection of bonus items, but I must admit I was not impressed with any of them. Starting things off is a dull audio commentary by director Phil Joanou (Final Analysis) and writer Jeff Maguire (In the Line of Fire (where's that level of quality in this script?)). Next up are fifteen deleted and extended scenes (with optional commentary by Joanou) (23 minutes) with nothing much gained or lost in the scenes. We then go to "Football Training" (6 minutes, 15 seconds) where we get a brief glimpse at the actors learning how to play real ball. Then there's a quick (4 minutes) profile on Phil Joanou, and rounding it all out is another quick piece (4 minutes) about The Rock in this role called "The Rock Takes the Field." Of course, we have the now almost ever-present preview trailers of Stomp the Yard, Ghost Rider, and Crossover.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Even the coldest of hearts can't help but feel some small measure of elation when the kids come together, beat the overwhelming odds, and come out on top. It's predictable yet still mildly exciting. You're happy to see the worst become the best, inspiring you to realize there's always hope and a bright light and the end of the tunnel.
Is life really this clichéd? I know I don't live the most exciting existence, but I figured the world was a touch more diverse and exciting than I. Then again, it would appear, at least thanks to Hollywood, that's not the case. With its playbook inspirational motif, Gridiron Gang is nothing that hasn't been done before. Unless you're the most serious connoisseur of such fare, I cannot recommend this title for either rental or purchase. There's nothing wrong with the DVD just what's on it.
Gridiron Gang is hereby found guilty of identity theft.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Director and Writer
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