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Overall Rating

Awesome: 10.64%
Worth A Look44.68%
Average: 27.66%
Pretty Bad: 14.89%
Total Crap: 2.13%

6 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Gridiron Gang
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by Erik Childress

"The Rock Is Not Just A Moviestar Anymore. Heís An Actor!"
4 stars

Low on my list of things to witness are underdog stories about those undeserving of underdog status. This list tends to begin with characters who are unlikable by even the most lapse of community standards and end with those so poorly distinguished in the writing that even the best actors couldnít garnish our sympathies let alone those named Channing Tatum. My view of those who have seriously broken the law relates to the societal expression conveyed at Shawshank of ďmore guns, more guards, more bars.Ē You break it, youíve bought it. That doesnít mean that Iím not a firm believer in the rite of second chances, but since rehabilitation in our nationís prisons is a bigger joke than the educational system which isnít much help in keeping vacancies Iím as quick to write it off as the next neighbor. Imagine my shock when I found myself embracing the story of Gridiron Gang, a football story which succeeds because it doesnít forget the concerns of those hesitant to offer that second chance and then wins them over long before the first game is even played.

Sean Porter (Dwayne ďThe RockĒ Johnson) is head guard at Camp Kilpatrick, a juvenile institution filled with gangbangers, thieves, drug dealers and murderers. 75% of those released from such confinements return to their roots (on the street or back in jail) or dead. Sean knows the statistics all too well and does his best to convince his detainees that only new avenues will set them free from the lifestyle theyíve grown into and failed at. Even as one of them does his best not to make the choice of following his homies into a territorial struggle, he is struck down upon his release and sparking an idea in Sean that his him returning to his own roots.

Football, a sport of discipline and teamwork Sean decides can help get these kids believing in themselves and leaving all their anger and disappointment off the field. Along with fellow guard (Xhibit), they convince their skeptical superiors (Leon Rippy & Kevin Dunn) and finagle their way into a high school league. Sean begins riding them hard in practice, finding room for those he believes needs it and even the more mistrustful whom are ready to make a sincere effort in bettering themselves. One in particular, Willie Weathers (Jade Yorker), the cousin of Seanís fallen student, must learn to co-exist with a rival gang member on the team while having more in common with his coach than either may know.

Gridiron Gangís first 50 minutes lays the essential groundwork for adapting our predetermined attitudes towards an understanding of these young men. Knowing how fickle the MPAA has been, for a PG-13 film it was a surprise to see how harsh and violent the scenes are around the neighborhood. (Youíd never see that in one of those Bruckheimer/Disney sports flicks.) Itís an essential piece to our own psychology so we just donít arbitrarily dismiss their lapsed ability to better their situation. And on top of that, every time it starts painting a rosy personality on the inmates, we are wholly reminded of what brought them there in the first place.

Physically, The Rock is perfectly suited to be the dude in charge whom you wouldnít want to challenge behind bars or on the gridiron. But thereís something just right about how he plays it and how Jeff Maguireís script identifies him. Like Sean Porter himself and the skeptics around him, we can assume that The Rock latched onto this idea to give him a taste of the football life he had to leave behind. And heís so good with the whistle that we can actually imagine him on the sidelines of a real NFL game leading a pro franchise to victory. That would be shortchanging just how wonderfully tailored The Rockís work is in the film. Handling subplots involving his own demons, he integrates them into every action he takes in trying to reach out to his boys and has one moment of consciousness thatís as good a piece of acting as youíll see all year. His ailing mother provides a necessary contrast to the lack of support which can lead young men to believe they are alone in this world and worth even less. Their scenes together acknowledge a universal truth between mothers and sons and leads to the filmís most emotional moment; again fixated on just The Rockís face. Wrestling fans, action fans and movie fans alike may be taken aback at just how good he is in this movie.

Director Phil Joanou was one of the later year prodigies of Spielberg during the Ď80s and somewhat of a visual stylist with films like the underrated Three OíClock High and the Sean Penn Hellís Kitchen opus, State of Grace. Absent from the scene since 1996ís Heavenís Prisoners (or 1999ís Entropy for those who remember), Joanou (also a frequent U2 video collaborator) has scaled back on the visuals and concentrates solely on the characters and their stories. This holds true even in the one aspect that usually cries out for revelatory footage and thatís the football scenes. Doing little to reinvent it in the slightest, Joanou has held back almost to the point of a dad with a handycam leaving the excitement away from the cinematography and the editing. After a while it dawns on us that whatever winning streak the team is on is meaningless in terms of numbers. Its each snap and every approaching tackle that these boys must put in motion and overcome on the road to preparing themselves to be winners for once.

The concept of using football to inspire criminals seems like a lateral move at best. After all the sport, plagued by selfish players and showmanship (not to mention its own brand of violence and the inevitable war metaphors) has probably been responsible for putting more people IN jail than getting them out. Anyone who has seen any clichť-riddled sports drama will not be short-changed with such familiar scenes as absentee parents making it to the final game, the second act tragedy or the season almost being cut short (twice). But there arenít lingering moments to fill in plot gaps and, as evidenced by footage from the 1993 documentary that plays during the end credits, itís not unreasonable to assume that its not precisely how it all played out. Gridiron Gang is a truly special film; a second chance tale on multi-levels thatís proof that good storytelling can change perception and make us appreciate a group of youngsters weíd just as soon throw away more than a blue collar guy who gets his shot with the Philadelphia Eagles.

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originally posted: 09/16/06 01:36:46
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User Comments

3/07/08 Haley marie OMG! i love this movie, there were a lot of hot guys in it to. Thats a thums up 5 stars
2/29/08 somebody Great movie, very well done, good story. 5 stars
12/11/06 OmniPotent Really Good Movie, Nice story, good acting. 4 stars
10/15/06 William Goss Starts out fine, but cliches pile up and story goes into overtime. Rock barely rises above. 3 stars
10/10/06 blake this is a great movie that really opens ur eyes to gang violence,,,,beautiful work 5 stars
9/26/06 Merry Cariaga This movie was awesome! We all can be winners, not losers. 5 stars
9/23/06 Mohobbit The rock has been taking acting classes,he's quite good.A very inspiring film. 4 stars
9/17/06 Melina Endcredit clips really validated the movie, I'm glad for the kids that left the violence 4 stars
9/17/06 P Lee I thought the movie was very good and quite inspirational. I recommend this movie! 5 stars
9/17/06 Schwarzenegger These kids should be in PRISON. Once a criminal always a criminal. CHEER 3 strikes LAW 1 stars
9/16/06 lee what the hell happened to bitchslapping hollywood for this kind o shyt? 2 stars
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  15-Sep-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 16-Jan-2007



Directed by
  Phil Joanou

Written by
  Jeff Maguire

  The Rock
  Kevin Dunn
  Leon Rippy
  Danny Martinez

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