WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL (Thomas Carter). 115 minutes. Opens Friday (August 22). See listings. Rating: NN
A dull, plodding and less-than-inspirational attempt to graft a faith-based message onto the successful Friday Night Lights approach to telling high school football stories, When The Game Stands Tall recounts the true story of California's De La Salle Spartans, who amassed a 151-game winning streak across 11 years.
Director Thomas Carter (Coach Carter, Save The Last Dance) stops the story every few minutes to hail the power of teamwork and prayer (this is the kind of film where everyone talks in speeches and exposition). He tries to give characters depth by showing that some of the players are overcoming personal demons, but all it adds up to are stereotypes and clichés.
There's the kid with the abusive dad, the show boat, the coach's son, the person who lost his family, the chubby kid, and so on. Despite the casting of some talented young actors, they get shortchanged in favour of the film's overarching message about how winning isn't everything. A potentially compelling aside about a kid who has seen so much death that he thinks he's cursed ends after half an hour and is barely mentioned for the remaining 85 minutes.
The adults don't fare better, with Jim Caviezel as the head coach who's so nonchalant and detached he looks like he's about to fall asleep. Michael Chiklis and Clancy Brown are fine as an assistant coach and the aforementioned abusive dad respectively, but it's embarrassing and depressing to watch Laura Dern set adrift as the supportive housewife who only wants her husband to be happy.
At least the on-field action looks great despite being of the patently unbelievable movie variety - where the slightest hit sends someone spiralling ass over teakettle through the air. And even then it comes only 30 minutes before the film and the non-existent story wrap up.