The plaintive, swelling horns and lunges for the heartstrings start immediately upon kickoff in "My All American," a polished, earnest but oddly antiseptic college football biopic about Freddie Joe Steinmark, who in 1969 helped to lead the University of Texas Longhorns to a national championship.
As played with unrelenting, big-smiling heartiness by Finn Wittrock, Steinmark was a gridiron-obsessed good Christian who overcame a short stature by working harder than his high school peers. He eventually earned a scholarship at UT Austin under the guidance of legendary Longhorn coach Darrell Royal (Aaron Eckhart).
Writer-director Angelo Pizzo also wrote "Hoosiers" and "Rudy," so this kind of do-gooder-does-good sports yarn is second nature enough that Pizzo might be unaware how neatly he's excised anything that smacks of messiness. Girlfriend and parents? They're perfect. Teammates? Nice and awesome. Coaches? Stern but caring. Even the game-time grunts, barks and crunches sound pristine, and a brief subplot regarding one teammate getting bad news from Vietnam barely registers, because everything else is about portraying a winning football team as a brutally efficient war machine.
The third-act revelation of Steinmark's debilitating hardship then feels like a random dramatic blow. Pizzo has no extra gear of triumph to inspire us after so much clockwork achievement. Strict adherence to the playbook may work in sports, but "My All American" shows the pitfalls of that approach with movies.
"My All American"
MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, language, brief partial nudity.
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes.
Playing: In general release.