"Completely Predictable And Reasonably Entertaining"
A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed the true-life football melodrama “Invincible” and admitted that even though it was cheesy, corny and amazingly predictable in virtually every aspect, I didn’t mind because the filmmakers deployed those old ingredients in a surprisingly entertaining manner that made those flaws seem somehow irrelevant. Now I am confronted with “The Gridiron Gang,” another true-life football melodrama that is cheesy, corny and amazingly predictable in virtually aspect and once again, I am forced to admit that it has been done in such an entertaining manner that I am willing to overlook those flaws.“Based on a true story,” the film stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Sean Porter, an overworked but idealistic counselor working in a juvenile delinquent facility in South Central L.A. Despairing over the cycle of violence and stupidity that sends the kids back out onto the streets to fall back into their old habits, Sean hits upon a method that will teach them the value of teamwork and personal responsibility–he forms a football team among his charges, most of them members of rival gangs, and forces them to work together for a common goal instead of trying to destroy each other. Are there team members who have personal traumas that are somehow overcome with a perfectly timed speech or two? Are there hard-hearted administrators who think that Sean’s program is a waste of time and money, only to turn around to lend support when the chips are down? Is there an evil rival team who crush our heroes early on, only to turn once again as their opponents in the big championship game? Does the outcome of said game come down entirely to the last play before the clock runs out? I’ll leave the answers for you to discover on your own.
As you can probably surmise from even that brief description, there isn’t a single thing in this film that you or I haven’t seen a hundred times before–it seems as if every third scene contains an inspirational speech of some sort. And yet, I still found myself responding to it on some basic fundamental level. Much of its success is due to the surprisingly strong and sincere performance from Johnson–while he has demonstrated a natural on-screen charisma in previous films such as “The Rundown” and “The Scorpion King,” his ability to make even the most shopworn material feel somehow authentic is perhaps the best proof to date that he has what it takes to be a movie star. Additionally, director Phil Joanou (returning to the screen after a long absence) does a good job of presenting the material in a straightforward manner without letting things get too gooey or melodramatic.Honestly, there is nothing truly essential about “The Gridiron Gang” and if you decide to skip it, you won’t be missing that much. However, if you do decide to check it out, I suspect you will find yourself a little surprised to discover just how not bad it really is.