Judge Paul Corupe examines the gridiron exploits of species Caluromys philander.
Dream big…never let reality stand in your way.
Rarely noted for their originality, sports movies come in pretty much two different flavors only—the always popular "misfits band together and become champions" scenario of such films as The Mighty Ducks, and the "little guy makes good against overwhelming odds" variation exemplified by films like Rudy. Possums, in a determined effort to spread the pure spirit-lifting joy that is the far-fetched competitive sports movie, combines both well-worn plots into an intoxicating brew that almost dares you to give high fives to people you don't know while hugging puppies and giving balloons to children.
Facts of the Case
Local high school football team The Nowata Possums haven't scored a touchdown in 13 seasons, and they haven't won a game in 25. The entire town is embarrassed by the failings of the Possums—that is, everyone except for Will Clark (Mac Davis, North Dallas Forty), Nowata hardware store owner and unconditionally proud Possums radio announcer. When the town's Mayor (Andrew Prine, Grizzly) and the frustrated townsfolk pull the plug on their legacy of pigskin humiliation, Will's last ditch effort to arouse Possum pride only gains him one disciple—high school student and fellow football spectator Jake Malloy (Greg Coolidge, Sorority Boys).
The team officially retired, Will decides to broadcast play-by-play commentary anyway—fantasies of the Possums winning games with spectacular plays and subsequently dominating the race for state championship. Even Jake becomes an all-star back-up quarterback. At first, the Nowata yokels laugh Will off, but before long, the made-up games gain in popularity, instilling the town with newfound pride. But when Pratville, the real state champs, get wind of their "loss" to the imaginary Possums, their coach (Real life ex-Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, Varsity Blues) heads to Nowata and challenges Will to a more reality-based rematch. With only two weeks to prepare, Clark attempts to reunite the old team—Jake included—to show Pratville that the Possums won't just roll over and play dead.
Although it's kind of hard to criticize a picture so staunchly well-intentioned and optimistic, Possums tips the scale pretty early on with a marked lack of subtlety, revealing the cardinal sin of this genre—for all its back-slapping, pride busting, and good spirits, it ain't got no heart.
In case there was any confusion over the uplifting plot summary on the back of the box, the setting of the film immediately lets the viewer what to expect for the next 90 minutes. The small, southern town of Nowata is a nostalgia-drenched heartland that presents a vision of wholesome, happy living so implausibly squeaky clean that it starts to leave the taste of soap in your mouth. After a hard day at the hardware store, Will heads to the local watering hole for a glass…of milk. While announcing, his hand is never to far away from a bottle…of root beer. Jake Malloy is a surreally clean cut American teen that makes Wally Cleaver look like a juvenile delinquent. Hell, even the "bullies" in the school tease with underlying affection and good natured humor, and the height of profanity in this film (a film, may I remind, you about high school sports) is "ass," and not even as in, "You're an ass," but as in "Let's get our asses in gear or we'll miss the pep rally, Skip!" Frankly, I've seen dirtier things mouthed on the sidelines on NFL telecasts.
Now maybe I've just become far too cynical for a film that's obviously geared as a "feel good" family hit, but Possums also falters where it matters most, in getting the viewer to emotionally invest in its characters. The film never bothers to give any of its high school athletes the smallest hint of a personality—never mind much screen time. Instead of getting involved directly with the players, the audience is obviously meant to identify with Will, but in truth, he's relatively peripheral to the whole team sports experience as the announcer, and has nothing at stake here besides the fact that he likes to announce football games on the radio—not exactly a lifelong dream that needs to be filled.
The main story is also diluted with a pair of melodramatic subplots. Soon after Will starts his crusade to save the Possums, he learns that a giant chain retailer plans on moving into the town, a development that could potentially put Will's hardware store out of business. When it's revealed that they intend to build the new store overtop of the field, Will is given a second, entirely redundant and completely illogical reason to win against Prattville, as though the Possums' performance at the big game has anything to do with this business deal (of course, it apparently does). If that's not superfluous enough for you, there's even a third story thread added as Will calls in his estranged son to help coach the new incarnation of the Possums. Needless to say, you can lay even odds that even if the Possums lose, everyone in Nowata is going to win anyway, especially Will.
Another serious problem with this film is Mac Davis's performance, which makes an end run for earnest, but gets tripped up at sleepy-eyed. Davis, a country singer/songwriter who had his biggest success penning hits for Elvis Presley, including the recently rehashed "A Little Less Conversation," is completely out of his element here, relying on the same hangdog expressions whether he's angrily challenging a rival coach or eagerly announcing a crucial fumble recovery on his fake broadcast. Not even the fourth quarter chance to reconcile with his can budge Davis from the dramatic two-yard-line.
Things don't get much better when we move on to the technical specs either: there's simply no excuse for releasing a non-anamorphic DVD these days. Originally issued straight to video in full screen, Possums on DVD has apparently been matted at 1.85:1, which plays havoc with some shot compositions. The quality of the video is also pretty lackluster, sporting weak black levels and generally dull colors. The soundtrack has been recorded far too low, and suffers from a dull hiss when it is cranked to an acceptable volume.
While the technical specs may be in line with a typical Lions Gate DVD release, surprise, surprise, there are actually some extras on this disc! A brief "making of featurette" plays like a promotional piece, although is does offer a glimpse of one of the film's producers, Leanna Creel, better known for her role as Lori on perennial teen schlock-com Saved by the Bell. Also here are some storyboards and a still gallery with lots of behind-the-scenes shots. Finally, director J. Max Burnett is joined by his brother, composer Justin Burnett, and star Greg Coolidge for an unexpectedly rousing, lively commentary
Just like you want the Bad News Bears to hit that home run in the bottom of the ninth, you want Possums to succeed, to be a good film. I was in Possums's corner with a handmade pennant and a box of Crackerjacks, wiling to overlook the fact that this small, low-budget film was a straight-to-video release that starred a washed-up country singer, but then something funny happened—Mighty Casey struck out.
Guilty. There is still no joy in Mudville.
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