Thursday, November 12, 2015
I do not own the above image. Copyright Clarius Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.
As of late, faith-based films have been coming out for Christians to have a reason to go to the movies. In recent years, such successes have included GOD’S NOT DEAD, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL and this fall’s WAR ROOM. One sub-genre of these movies is the Christian sports movie, specifically football-centric movies. There has already been one such movie this fall (WOODLAWN) that has been a moderate success. This weekend, another movie appears in theatres as a wide release with a little bit of mainstream prestige behind it. This is my first foray into the Christian movie genre and if the rest of them are like MY ALL AMERICAN, I may skip the rest.
MY ALL AMERICAN follows the true story of Freddie Steinmark (Wittrock), a star running back/safety at a small-ish school in Colorado. Freddie wants to follow every Catholic athlete’s dream: play football for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (sound familiar?). Considered too small for that major program, Freddie, along with “rival” turned best friend Bobby Mitchell (Terrell), are offered scholarships to play for the University of Texas by not-yet-legendary coach Darrell Royal (Eckhart). Joining them in Austin is the girl of Freddie’s dreams, Linda (Bolger).
After a little bit of back & forth with myself over the past week, I have decided to not spoil the movie outright. This despite the fact that it is my belief that no one, not even the most passionate Longhorn fan, should see this movie. This movie is awful. Really, really awful. And not laughably awful either. The dialogue is awful. Each line is so short & so on-the-nose precise that they read like they’re from a 2nd grader’s reading book. You could probably count the number of six-letter words that aren’t proper nouns with your fingers. The story is even straighter & simpler, showing its hand in the first conversation of the movie during the opening scene where a magazine interview takes place that serves as the bookends to the movie. If you don’t see the end of this movie coming after that first scene, I’ll assume you’ve never seen a movie before.
What’s most shocking about that is that writer/director Angelo Pizzo has actually written two really good sports movies, HOOSIERS and RUDY. Watching MY ALL-AMERICAN I wondered often if those two movies actually were any good. Think of all the pre-game pep talks in HOOSIERS. MY ALL-AMERICAN features the opposite: speeches that would have made me take off my uniform & go back to the dorms to study for Monday’s Chemistry exam. Pizzo also has very little idea what he’s doing behind the camera. Football can look beautiful on screen but that’s not the case here. Most scenes are barely distinguishable from the Friday Night Lights TV show. Some shots of the Colorado farmland look decent but most scenes that involve actors moving are uninspiring. This movie needed Pizzo’s friend & collaborator David Anspaugh’s touch badly.
It almost appears that the actors know that the material just isn’t up to par. Aaron Eckhart looks lost and he’s the one giving the speeches. He looks like he’s biding time before he can fire his agent after each take. Robin Tunney is absolutely wasted as Freddie’s mother. The lone bright spot is the chemistry between Finn Wittrock & Sarah Bolger as the love birds at the center of the movie. You’d swear they are actually an item in real life. The rest of the actors are people I’ve never seen/noticed before in my years of watching movies & television and something tells me that I’ll see very few of them again.
MY ALL-AMERICAN features so little real conflict between two human characters there were times where I was wondering if the movie actually took place in the fictional town of Pleasantville. So many little details are set up but not a single one is followed through. It’s mentioned quite early that Freddie’s dad is strict about practicing at home but that’s brushed aside just as quickly without issue. Bobby is set up as the guy whose size & attitude is going to shove Freddie down the depth chart. But after one practice, they’re BFFs. At spring practice & training camp, a potential quarterback controversy could break the team apart but is resolved in a dumb scene where a character drops his pants. The movie plays everything safer than a winning team in prevent defense on the final drive of the game.
But how does the movie play as a Christian movie? For even that audience, the movie sucks. The only time Freddie’s faith is openly talked about is after Bobby finds out his older brother was killed in Vietnam. And even then, it’s for maybe a minute & is so memorable, I can’t remember a damn thing Freddie says. That will teach me to forget a pen & paper at these screenings. But it’s in a single scene during the final 15 minutes where the movie fails the most in this aspect. Something happens to the main character where his faith appears to have failed him in the most unimaginable way. It is here at this moment that he should need his Catholic belief the most. It is mentioned or hinted at that Freddie is a devout Catholic who goes to mass every day, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink and probably hasn’t slept with his girlfriend. But during this one particular scene, the words “God” or “faith” are never mentioned between the two of them. In fact, Freddie’s religion is barely mentioned in the final half of this 115 minute slog.
MY ALL-AMERICAN is a faith-based rip-off of BRIAN’S SONG. The script features hardly a scene or even word of dialogue that would appear in any decent movie. Angelo Pizzo is way over his head on this one, leaving every actor, crew member & ticket buyer out to dry. To paraphrase what I’ve said many times before: Christians, you deserve better.