This religious sports biopic keeps dropping the ball.
I was skeptical about the sports biopic “American Underdog,” which focuses on Kurt Warner, who is considered to be, by attribute, the greatest undrafted NFL player. It’s also a Christian drama, directed by the Erwin Brothers, and I was willing to give it the BOTD, because of how some recent religious pieces like “Breakthrough” and “Heaven is for Real” have their hearts in the right places. But it ends up feeling corny in terms of its narrative and acting.
Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin, Bruce McGill, Ser’Darius Blain, and Dennis Quaid are all fine talents and some of them are able to use their emotions, but they’re often misused, as if pushing their actings to the very limits would be blasphemy. I wanted the movie do more than succumb to the cliches. I wanted it to have inspiration, but it doesn’t have much of that.
In his early stages, Kurt Warner (Levi) struggles to get himself in the big games, which results in him being drafted and getting a graveyard shift as a grocer. He also starts dating Brenda (Paquin), a divorced mother of two kids: one of whom has been blind since he was four months old after being dropped on his head. She’s thankful for the religion that gave her boy a second chance at walking and talking.
His name is Zack, and he’s played by blind actor Hayden Zaller. I just wanted to make sure he’s an actual blind actor, instead of a movie kid making squinty faces. This kid is legit. If deaf actress Millicent Simmonds can be given a chance movie, than why not blind people? I’m speaking of course to Sia, who thought having non-autistic actress Maddie Ziegler playing an autistic teen was a good idea in “Music.”
Next, Kurt finds himself playing in an arena for Jim Foster (McGill), and he struggles to get himself up and running, that Foster pays Kurt $100 for every touchdown he makes. And eventually, he earns himself a spot in the St. Louis Rams with the two coaches who have their own ways of believing in him: Dick (Quaid) and Mike (Chance Kelly).
I think Quaid and Kelly are the most believable supporting actors in the movie, because of how their ages and dialogue keeps them in line. Coaches have their own ways of bringing out the best of sports players, and when handled well, they can be more convincing than the actual games.
“American Underdog” didn’t reel me in to the real football player’s world, because his story is handled in a flimsy state. He has to deal with blizzards, break-ups, and the life of a free agent. They could be well-acted, but they don’t have much to do. Not even the big games are all that interesting.
Levi is a charming and bold actor, inside or outside his “Shazam” and “Tangled” world, but he should have been more compelled to play Kurt, instead of being the typical sports player learning about the value of God. But at least he’s marginally better than Paquin, who seems dull and too simple as his dream girl.
To really delve into a football player’s story is to allow us to acknowledge the challenges and adventures he discovers along the way. And I mean it really has to get us involved without seeming routine or obligatory. “American Underdog” could have been something if not for its rules.
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