A true tale of high school football achievement becomes a strained, by-the-numbers grab bag of uplift in the Christian sports drama "When the Game Stands Tall."
At the small California Catholic high school De La Salle, Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) instills brotherhood over personal glory and perfect effort over winning at all costs. The result: a record-setting streak of 151 straight victories.
The movie focuses on the streak's end in 2003 — two straight losses, yikes! — and as you might imagine, director Thomas Carter and writer Scott Marshall Smith (adapting a book about the team) struggle to make us care for a golden squad that isn't exactly an underdog. This is where the personal side dramas — coach's heart attack, a student's tragic death, a star player's overbearing father — are meant to imbue a sense of adversity, but the effect is too diffuse, the acting too overwrought, and Carter's direction too narratively restless to have any emotional effect.
Caviezel, meanwhile, is too stiff to get at Ladouceur's soulfulness, readily apparent in an end-credits video clip. After two hours of football-driven story, being told, "It's not about the football," at the end seems disingenuous and patronizing, especially when tallying the potential brain damage from all the movie-glorified hitting.
For that intersection between sports and manhood, you're better off binge-watching the more effortlessly inspiring "Friday Night Lights."
"When the Game Stands Tall."
MPAA rating: PG for thematic material, a scene of violence and brief smoking.
Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
Playing: In wide release.