by JAMES BRIGHAM
I know what you’re thinking. No, I’m not talking about the number of bullets I fired in that last shootout. I’m talking about this week’s DVD pick. You’re thinking, ‘Why would James choose Gridiron Gang? It looks like they just mashed together The Longest Yard with Remember the Titans to make a mass market and kid-friendly sports tale of rising against the odds.’ Well, friend, that’s what I thought this movie was going to be at first. Then I watched it at a sneak preview and was slightly shocked at how wrong I had been.
Yes, the movie does follow many of the old sports movie clichés. Ragtag bunch of misfits and miscreants? Check. Coach learns just as many lessons from his team as he dispenses to them? Check. Climactic final game? Check. There’s definitely a formula at work here. That doesn’t mean all formulaic films are garbage. After all, they prove there’s power to be found in the proper combination of elements. Gridiron Gang isn’t so aware of its recipe as to become self-mocking, but neither does it avoid the steps so many other sports genre films have taken before.
The film also has its heart in the right place. As you’re told early on, this is based on a true story. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays Sean Porter, a juvenile detention worker with a genuine interest in helping educate and rehabilitate the young men who end up in his facility. Drawing on his own athletic past as inspiration, he starts a volunteer football program at the center in the hope cooperative sports play will instill pride, instill creativity, and eliminate divisions based on race and gang affiliation. Dwayne Johnson performs splendidly, with little of the swagger and eyebrow raising seen in his more over-the-top fare.
As the credits rolls, the viewer is treated to scenes from a documentary that puts real-life faces on many of the same fictional characters that had just been seen in the film proper. It’s amazing to see how well the movie and its actors captured the stories and personalities of the people originally involved in this program. Gridiron Gang is a testament to the recuperative power of sports: spiritually, mentally, and physically.
Other new releases this week: Employee of the Month, The Protector, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning