Invincible is Rudy and The Rookie all rolled into one. Set in the mid-‘70s Mark Wahlberg stars as the real-life Vince Papale a blue-collar Philadelphian down on his luck after his wife leaves him. His only solace is playing football with his cronies and rooting for his beloved Philadelphia Eagles who are in a real rut. Newly hired head coach the legendary Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) decides to infuse some new blood into the team by holding open tryouts. All of Vince’s friends think he’d be perfect and urge him to go for it. He does makes it and is soon playing with some of his idols much to their chagrin. I mean who is this punk anyway? Sure he’s got some excellent instincts but can he really be a NFL player with no experience? Yes in fact he can proving to all those regular Joes out there you can live the dream. Yeah yeah. Unfortunately none of the actors really add anything either. Wahlberg is definitely a natural to play this kind of role having already done so in Rock Star. At least in Invincible he gets to show off some of his athletic abilities rather than just his bare chest in black leather pants. But the performance is run of the mill. As is Kinnear who as Vermeil takes on the headaches of turning a losing team into winners all while his supportive wife sweetly reassures him he’s doing the very best he can. Seen it. To their credit some of the supporting actors—including Kirk Acevedo (The New World) Michael Kelly (Dawn of the Dead) and Michael Rispoli (Mr. 3000)—paint a convincing picture of genuine camaraderie between local Philadelphians. And Elizabeth Banks (The 40 Year-Old Virgin) rounds things out as Vince’s cute love interest (and eventual real-life wife) who knows a few things about football by golly. You’d think Invincible would be a no-brainer feel-good kind of sports flick. It’s based on a real-life person has that whole underdog thing going for it and it’s football. What could go wrong with that? Nothing really besides the fact it’s been done about a hundred times over—and has now been left in the hands of newbies. First-time director Ericson Core a former cinematographer and writer Brad Gann are clearly green doing things by the play book line for line. It’s scary helming a feature film for a big studio like Disney who had such sport hits like The Rookie and Remember the Titans. Perhaps Core wanted to go more out on a limb but was reigned in. Who knows? The football scenes are definitely the highlight and Core handles the action well. I mean you do want Papale to prove himself the natural athlete he truly is and make all his homies proud. But the rest of it is just blah.
Based on H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger's bestselling book of the same name Friday Night Lights tells the true story of the dusty West Texas town of Odessa where nothing much happens until September rolls around. That's when the town's 20 000 or so denizens pour into Ratliff Stadium the country's biggest high school football field every Friday night to watch the Permian Panthers Odessa's "boys in black " take to the field. All the town's hope and dreams are pinned on the padded shoulders of these young gridiron heroes--including insecure quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black); cocky self-assured running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke); headstrong self-destructive tailback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) who must contend with an overbearing abusive dad (Tim McGraw--yes that Tim McGraw the country singer); and the team's spiritual leader middle linebacker Ivory Christian (newcomer Lee Jackson). The Panthers begin their season with one thing on their minds--winning their fifth straight championship for the first time in the team's 30-year history--but for their coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) it also means instilling a love and joy of the game in the boys' hearts amidst tremendous pressures and expectations. Easier said than done.
There isn't a false note in any of the performances and no one falls back on clichéd versions of their characters as is so easy to do in rah-rah sports movies. Thornton does a particularly good job as Gaines keeping you guessing whether he's going to be a hardass insensitive to his players' emotional needs (like so many movie football coaches before him) or if he truly means to coach his boys in a fair and decent way. Gaines too has to deal with his own pressures especially from the townsfolk who are likely to string him up if the team loses the championship. As for Gaines' players Black (the oh-so-serious kid from Thornton's Sling Blade) is all grown up and buffed out and still very serious. It works for the young actor though as the beleaguered Winchell struggles with the love-hate relationship he has with his chosen sport. Other standouts include Luke (Antwone Fisher) as the star player Boobie whose cocksureness leads him to an injury; Hedlund as the volatile Billingsley trying desperately to please his father; and McGraw making his film debut as the father a former Permian Panther champion who sure hasn't given up his competitive spirit basically beating it into his son. First Faith Hill (McGraw's real-life wife) in The Stepford Wives and now McGraw--who knew country singers could act?
From All the Right Moves to Varsity Blues to Remember the Titans Friday Night Lights unfortunately doesn't completely distinguish itself from the pack of football movies before it--like those this is all about how the young players--be they underdogs second-string nobodies or stars--rising above the mounting pressure and playing the best they can bless their hearts. Still there's no question the sports genre--particularly football--always gets the juices pumping with FNL being no exception. It might have something to do with our sick fascination with watching bone-crunching hits and body-punishing tackles. It's dangerous out there for these guys; no other sport (besides maybe hockey) can elicit such wince-inducing emotion and actor/director Peter Berg (The Rundown) exploits that. Obviously influenced by Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday Berg effectively paints his own gritty documentary-style picture of the competitive sport without relying on too many trite gushy over-the-top moments. And to give it credit the film does not necessarily have a feel-good "let's win one for the Gipper" ending; it is based on a true story after all and as we know real life isn't all sunshine and roses especially in the bloodthirsty world of Texas high school football.
September 19, 2003 6:25am EST
Darrin (Cuba Gooding Jr.) an advertising executive living in New York is totally bankrupt--both morally and financially. On the same day he gets fired from his job for embellishing his résumé Darrin finds out his aunt has died and he must travel back to his hometown in Georgia to attend her funeral. Turns out auntie left a small fortune for Darrin in her will but there's a catch: In order to collect the inheritance he must first lead the local church gospel choir to success at the annual Gospel Explosion--a national competition. But the choir which consists of a handful of older churchgoing folk is in shambles. Desperate for results Darrin draws potential members by opening the choir to just about anyone including prison inmates and atheists. Unfortunately the most talented singer in town is a jazz singer named Lilly (Beyoncé Knowles) who wants nothing to do with the church. Will Darrin be able to convince her to join the choir on a tune and join him on a date? Predictable from beginning to end this pic has one great thing going for it--the music. With gospel styles as diverse as traditional Southern to contemporary with a touch of hip-hop The Fighting Temptations will have you anxiously anticipating each musical number.
Gooding who last starred in the shipwreck Boat Trip misleadingly gets top billing in the comedy The Fighting Temptations. Sure the film revolves around his smarmy character Darrin but Gooding is outshined here by talented cast members that are either funnier or more musically inclined than he is. As Gooding's love interest Lilly Knowles who made her big-screen debut in last year's Austin Powers in Goldmember has found a perfect vehicle to show off both her multi-octave range and her developing acting skills. Unsurprisingly her musical numbers including her steamy nightclub rendition of "Fever " are much more memorable than her dialogue. But sandwiched between the sentimental scenes and rollicking musical numbers are two performances that really stand out. The first is Mike Epps as Lucius Monte Carlo's Caddy-driving welcoming committee. Epps (Friday After Next) livens up every scene he is in and the comedian consistently peppers his laugh-out-loud lines with subtle mispronunciations: "(Lilly's) in a spectrum of fine-ness; the energy is so potnent that she got a class-action suit against her right now for reckless endangerment." Adding to the comedy is Steve Harvey as the gossip-spreading local radio DJ. Like Epps Harvey's scenes many of which have him sitting behind a card table while reporting live from community events are refreshingly funny.
In a career that spans nearly four decades director Jonathan Lynn has amassed a diverse hit-or-miss filmography that includes the cross-dressing comedy Nuns on the Run the fish-out-of-water hit My Cousin Vinny the not-so-distinguished The Distinguished Gentleman and the screwball comedy The Whole Nine Yards. While The Fighting Temptations is not a hit for the director it is not exactly a miss either; it is middle of the road. With the church scenes for example Lynn really gives moviegoers a sense of the feverish rejuvenation that takes place during religious musical performances complete with patrons being 'slain in the Spirit' and falling to the ground. Regrettably the story by scribes Elizabeth Hunter and Saladin K. Patterson also falls to the floor like a fainting churchgoer; the musical numbers liven up the otherwise humdrum plot involving Darrin and Lilly. Assembled under the guidance of music-savvy producers such as Loretha Jones and Benny Medina the movie ends up being surprisingly entertaining. Some of the top scenes in the film include Knowles' a cappella solo "Swing Low Sweet Chariot " The O'Jays barbershop rendition of "Loves Me Like a Rock" and a moving Gospel Explosion performance by the Blind Boys of Alabama.