GRIDIRON GANG (Phil Joanou). 124 minutes. Opens Friday (September 15). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Gridiron Gang is a blatant message movie, the most pure-hearted inspirational jock movie around.
The idea, based on a successful program in the California juvenile detention system, is that belonging to a football team is a great way to help young gangbangers acquire self-discipline and self-respect and stay alive and out of jail.
If that sounds familiar and fairly hokey, it also gives the film a straightforward, respectful approach to its characters and story. Compared to the condescending buffoonery of Adam Sandler in The Longest Yard, which this film very vaguely resembles, Gridiron Gang is fresh and engaging.
Life in the 'hood may be violent and dangerous, but it's played here for character and an edgy claustrophobia rather than thrills. Life on the team involves sweat, pain, humour and the legitimate thrills of the game, all flowing naturally from the situations -- no wonky superplays, no overcutting, no impossible stunts.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson , as the coach, gets the star treatment with loving close-ups. He has the easy charisma to carry it off and the generosity to let his co-stars shine.
The movie's too long, and the 13-year-olds in the preview audience laughed at one of The Rock's speeches, but in the end they went away happy.