Starring: Jim Caviezel, Alexander Ludwig, Michael Chiklis
Directed by: Thomas Carter (“Coach Carter”)
Written by: Scott Marshall (“The Score”)
It is no coincidence that Sony Pictures is choosing to release the inspired-by-a-true-story sports film “When The Game Stands Tall” less than a week away from the return of football to our living rooms and local stadiums. From a marketing perspective, what better way to whet fans’ appetite than to bring them an inspirational team story and hard-hitting football action. Too bad it’s a complete missed opportunity since “When The Game Stands Tall” fumbles every possession.
Inspired by real events, the De La Salle High School Spartans are riding a win streak that football has never seen: 151 games. But when they succumb to their first loss and other bumps in the road that are bigger than the game of football, the team must find it within themselves to overcome, all behind their coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel).
As a lead actor, Caviezel is cinematic Ambien. His performance is dull and lifeless, almost as if he was shot with horse tranquilizers in between takes. It is to the point of distraction, as he portrays perhaps the first coach in competitive sports history to never raise his voice once. Literally. The words he is saying may express compassion but Caviezel doesn’t come anywhere close to conveying it. Michael Chiklis’ assistant coach comes closer to the fire you’d expect, but it’s ultimately a lost effort.
As a story, it’s not only an odd one to tell from an underdog perspective, but it’s a narrative that is laid out in an exceedingly poor way. It’s general premise of a team with a 151-game win streak who loses a couple of games and yet still finds themselves competing to win a State Championship makes it really hard to see this team as anything but completely privileged. Of course, there are a few speed bumps and moments of tragedy that strike along the way that are meant to show them struggle and give reason to hope for the team to pull through, but the adversity never sinks in. As a result, moments meant to be hugely impactful and emotional are often ignored as the film progresses, leaving the audience with nothing to grasp onto.
There are some decent scenes of football action throughout the film complete with bone-crunching side effects of impactful hits, the best of which can be seen in the film’s biggest game. Unfortunately, these better moments are fleeting and completely offset by schlocky dramatic scenes with overbearing, sappy soaring piano music behind every last one of them. With a generally uninspiring story containing few connecting threads and little stakes, unmemorable characters, a painfully generic screenplay and a woefully miscast Caviezel, “When The Game Stands Tall” is a complete miss, wide right.