3 stars (out of four)
"Goal! The Dream Begins" is an inspirational sports movie, but I liked it anyway. Even the grisliest of its screenwriting conventions gets a fair shake from a good cast, including Stephen Dillane (a Tony Award winner for "The Real Thing") and Anna Friel (part of the London and Broadway cast of "Closer"). Whatever its American distribution fortunes, the film is already a success in England and the first of a planned football trilogy, meaning a soccer trilogy, although in England if you say "soccer" instead of "football" the hooligans start throwing pints at your head. "Green Street Hooligans"--a film a lot less diverting than "Goal!"--set us straight on that score.
Most sports films are also fish-out-of-water stories, and this one qualifies as both. Soccer-mad Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker), a Mexican national who works with his father in a lawn business trimming the upscale hedges of Los Angeles, is playing soccer one day after work. His dazzling footwork catches the eye of a former footballer and sometime talent scout (Dillane) who promises him a tryout with his old team, Newcastle United. We can tell it's dazzling because when Santiago gets the ball, the camerawork goes from "normal" to digitized zip-zap effects and a full complement of slow-mo.
Against his father's wishes but with the blessing and money of his grandmother, Santiago makes his way to England. In his monthlong tryout he suffers the verbal slings and arrows and, eventually, garners the respect of the Newcastle A-team. The team's multimillion-dollar star player, a David Beckham-y party boy (Alessandro Nivola), becomes the roommate of Santiago, star on the rise. Meantime Santiago--who secretly has an asthma problem--becomes involved with the team nurse, Roz (Friel).
In its initial release overseas, "Goal!" was intended for a slightly older audience. The U.S. version has been trimmed (and, swearing wise, redubbed) for a PG. So it's a so-called "kids' film" that happens, profitably, to address a few grown-up issues, one of them being: Are multimillion-dollar star players who hit the clubs and show up late for practice worth emulating?
The movie's stated and re-stated theme is all about dreams, and dreaming the right dreams, and following your dreams until you corner them and make those dreams come true. Yes, indeed. It's the stuff of the genre. Yet even when you know where "Goal!" is going, which is all the time, its can-do spirit doesn't feel entirely manufactured. (Only a couple of risible father/son confrontations play as utter hooey.) Becker's Santiago is an engaging fellow, and Dillane tosses off his expositional blah-blah with such rumpled panache, his scenes could be taught in acting schools offering courses in how to toss off expositional blah-blah with rumpled panache. Friel, a big starlet in England before she became known as a former starlet and current fine actress, handles her scenes the same way.
Warning to members of the Minuteman militia and supporters of "The O'Reilly Factor": "Goal!" takes a non-judgmental view of undocumented workers and the way in which many of them cross the Mexico/U.S. border. If your blood boils at the previous sentence, "Goal!" is not your inspirational sports movie .
'Goal! The Dream Begins'
Directed by Danny Cannon; screenplay by Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Mike Jefferies and Adrian Butchart; cinematography by Michael Barrett; edited by Chris Dickens; production design by Laurence Dorman; music by Graeme Revell; produced by Mark Huffam, Matt Barrelle and Mike Jefferies. A Touchstone Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:57. MPAA rating: PG (for language, sexual situations, and some thematic material including partying).
Santiago Munez - Kuno Becker
Glen Foy - Stephen Dillane
Roz Harmison - Anna Friel
Erik Dornhelm - Marcel Iures
Gavin Harris - Alessandro NivolaCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times