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Crooked Arrows
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by Jay Seaver

"Plays it as straight as a movie can, but it's still OK."
3 stars

"Crooked Arrows" is a button-pushing sports movie notable for both the sport being played (lacrosse) and the underdog school (a Native American nation in upstate New York). It's likely to be far from the best sports movie or "life on the reservation" movie anyone in the audience will ever see, but it's an amiable couple of hours that doesn't embarrass either of the niches it serves.

Native Americans of the Haudenosaunee nations have been playing lacrosse (also known as "the Creator's Game" and "the medicine game") for hundreds of years, but in the present, the Sunaquot Nation (a fictional equivalent of the Onondaga Nation) high school in upstate New York is getting its butt kicked by Coventry Prep in a pre-season scrimmage. When star player Jimmy Silverfoot (Tyler Hill) comes out with a sore shoulder, manager Nadie Logan (Chelsea Ricketts) inserts herself, only to have her ankle broken in two places. On the other side of the reservation, her older brother Joe (Brandon Routh) manages the casino, whose white developer (Tom Kemp) is leaning on him to get an expansion. A former star for Coventry, Joe gets the council to agree with a caveat - he must take over coaching the team from his father (Gil Birmingham), who describes it as a spiritual quest.

There's a standard template for high school sports movies, and this one never veers far from it: The viewer can check off the coach who's not really a bad guy but has had misplaced priorities, the showboating ball hog, the guy who rides the bench, the girl who loves the game more than many of the players, and so on. Writers Brad Riddel and Todd Baird aren't looking to subvert expectations here, and on occasion, things happen because it's the point in an inspiring sports story where such things happen. The portions of the movie that attempt to deal with the compromises Native Americans must make are even thinner.

The cast does a fair amount to make up the difference. Brandon Routh doesn't quite live up to his full potential here - his heart just really doesn't seem to be into the more venal, self-absorbed Joe seen at the beginning - but he delivers a decent quip without pushing it too far and projects a very believable not-quite-confidence once the character's heart is back in the right place. He's got an easy rapport with Chelsea Ricketts, but then again, she's making everybody look good as the picture's heart and cast's MVP. She's got to push other characters to be the best they can be naturally, and manages. Crystal Allen is likable enough as the old girlfriend who has come to know Joe's people better than he does, and it would be nice if Gil Birmingham was in the movie a little more - the father/chief who is more modern than one might expect is a bit of a stock character who doesn't really surprise an audience any more, but he still gets a fair amount from it.

Some of the kids are a little rough; many were likely cast as much on their ability to play lacrosse as their acting chops. This dedication to getting it right seems to come through during the game scenes, which may not have the spectacular camerawork one would get from a big studio movie, but which still looks pretty good. While not flashy, they do a nice job of allowing the game and training to tell the story on the one hand while serving as a decent introduction to the game on the other - even the likes of me could pick up some strategy without anybody outright explaining it.

Director Steve Rash does a serviceable job for the most part, but like the writers, he doesn't do a whole lot to raise the film above average. Sometimes the filmmakers have a hard time pulling everything together into a whole. It's a PG-13 movie that would be PG except for one joke that isn't quite so funny as it needs to be, and there's a natural theme of economic class - game invented by a now-underclass primarily played by the wealthy - that is barely touched on aside from an off-hand comment or so. And, man, I kind of love Dennis Ambriz as the obligatory craggy-faced and deep-voiced elder mentor Crooked Arrow, but if the movie gives the audience any specifics of his relationship to Joe, I missed it.

So, not really a top-tier sports movie, but good enough, especially since there aren't a whole lot of movies about lacrosse or Native American casts. Both probably deserve a better movie, but could have gotten something a lot worse.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=23800&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/29/12 11:37:14
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USA
  18-May-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 23-Oct-2012

UK
  N/A

Australia
  18-May-2012
  DVD: 23-Oct-2012


Directed by
  Steve Rash

Written by
  Brad Riddell
  Todd Baird

Cast
  Brandon Routh
  Chelsea Ricketts
  Crystal Allen
  Gil Birmingham
  Tyler Hill



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