Are you ready for some football? Millions of Americans are as the NFL season is now upon us. Due to its huge popularity, football sits atop our culture as the most popular sport in America. Cinema over the years has taken notice, delivering dozens of feature films tackling the game of football.  Many of the films succeeded. However, many did not. Executive Games Editor at Wikia Matthew Allen, Fan Contributor Managing Editor Nick Nunziata, and fellow Fan Contributor Danielle Ryan and join me for a look at some football films that came up short of the goal line.

The Replacements

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What is it about Keanu Reeves playing ex quarterbacks with untapped potential? Johnny Utah from Point Break has a spiritual successor in Shane Falco, a former all-star college QB who flamed out in his final college game and had a pro career that failed to launch, and is now literally scraping by with his own boat cleaning business. It’s a sports tale we’ve heard dozens of times before: A grizzled veteran coach and a lovable group of misfits must come together and figure out how to work as a team and overcome the odds to redeem their season. Along the way, they’ll discover a little about football, and a lot about themselves. By the numbers, predictable, and yet, still fun.

What redeems this movie are the performances turned in by the ensemble cast. You can tell they aren’t taking things too seriously, and there is some fun chemistry between Reeves, Jon Favreau, Orlando Jones, Faizon Love, and Rhys Ifans. Did I mention that the part of said grizzled head coach is played by none other than Gene frickin’ Hackman? It’s worth the price of admission just to see Hackman channel his performance from Hoosiers. [Matthew Allen]

Johnny Be Good

JOHNNY BE GOOD, from left: Anthony Michael Hall, Robert Downey Jr., 1988. © Orion Pictures

The cast for this movie would be top notch if released on 2016. Uma Thurman (A-list), Robert Downey Jr. (A-list) and Anthony Michael Hall (2 out of 3 ain’t bad) headlined this 1998 comedy. Hall stars as Johnny Walker, a high school quarterback and top recruit in the country. Downey Jr. plays Walker’s best friend Leo Wiggins and Thurman portrays Walker’s girlfriend Georgia Elkans.

The story centers around the recruitment of Walker by hundreds of colleges across the country.  What starts as handshake deals and promises of glory turn into offers of cash, women, and unlimited partying.  Recruiters buy Leo a car, offer bribes to his coaches and even offer to launder money to his family. Furthermore, Walker’s coach takes a bribe from a Piermont College. They offer him their head coaching job if he can land Walker.

The movie fumbles as Walker attempts to make his decision. The idea the movie pushes is that he uses his moral compass to make his eventual decision.  The problem lies in the fact that the audience has been shown 90 minutes of a kid with no moral compass who does what he wants when he wants. He cheats, lies, and even has sex with a prostitute on a recruiting trip. Walker is a narcissist and for the most part amoral. This begs the question of where this moral compass came from as they usually don’t appear out of nowhere.

Though the movie is fun and features 80’s super actor Paul Gleason (Breakfast Club, Die Hard), it really doesn’t make sense when viewed as an entire film.  The football scenes are fun, yet unrealistic. [Ryan Aday]

Any Given Sunday

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As far as star power goes, Any Given Sunday might be the most brightly appointed football movie ever. Oliver Stone at the helm at the peak of his stardom. With Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx, and Cameron Diaz starring? That’s a powerhouse. It’s glitzy, glossy, loud, and concussive. Just like football. The problems are apparent right out of the gate. Without having approval from the NFL due to the questionable things it says about the business, the teams are fictionalized in Any Given Sunday. That hurts.

Oliver Stone’s style, which worked so well in The Doors and JFK seems perfect for football but it rings hollow. Though there are some beautiful shots it feels too glossy at times and without a sense of geography at others. It lacks bite. A soap opera set in the world of football only works if there’s an emotional payoff. Any Given Sunday is loud and aggressive because there’s not enough meat to sustain it. At least the latter-day screamin’ Pacino actually has a role where he can scream and it fits the material. [Nick Nunziata]

The Waterboy

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The Waterboy is an hour-and-a-half long joke about the mentally disabled. The first of Adam Sandler’s two terrible football films tells the tale of Bobby Boucher. Boucher is Forrest Gump dialed up a notch, minus any of Tom Hanks’ charm. He is a manchild who seems to have two settings: screaming and baby-talk. Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard at least featured a calmer, more nuanced Sandler and a secondary cast with some comedic chops.

Boucher is the waterboy for a fictional college football team. He ends up playing on the team because he’s secretly amazing at football. He goes on to win the big game, win the girl, and tell his haters off. It’s pretty formulaic and features a lot of less-than-stellar performances. Kathy Bates plays the only slightly-funny character, Boucher’s mother. She believes football is the devil and calls it “the foosball”. Her dialogue isn’t great, but she makes the best of it.

A lot of people really love The Waterboy. It’s a go-to for frat boys and Sandler fans. The film makes use of a lot of repeated jokes and callbacks that tend to be common in bro humor. There’s something to be said for a movie that gives guys crap to yell when they’re drunk and make all of their friends laugh. That’s what The Waterboy is, in a nutshell. It’s a movie made to be remembered at a kegger. It’s Billy Madison Plays Football. Sandler isn’t funny in this, he’s obnoxious. A lot of bad movies are boring, but this one’s just annoying. [Danielle Ryan]

The Program

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1993’s The Program may be a bit silly and hamfisted by today’s standards, but it was also ahead of its time. Before Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday, ESPN’s ill-fated Playmakers, or even HBO’s documentary series Hard Knocks gave us a glimpse into the locker room and showed us the seedier side of the football business, The Program showed us the pressures student athletes face, and how the game can take its toll on even those with the best intentions.

The Program was written and directed by David S. Ward, who was the creative force behind the baseball classic, Major League. It also featured solid performances from James Caan, Omar Epps, and Halle Berry. But it was Andrew Bryniarski’s performance as the steroid abusing Steve Lattimer that struck a nerve at the time. Seeing the effects of Lattimer’s ‘roid rage in the weight room, on the field, and in his personal life was a heavy-handed but no less effective warning against the dangers of taking shortcuts in sports. [Matthew Allen]

Ryan Aday
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