I refused to watch Friday Night Lights because it was being billed as the “best” and most “inspirational” sports film ever made. My response to that? Aren’t they all? That seems to be all I ever hear when a sports movie worms its way into theatres. Inspirational. Motivational. Uplifting. It seems that sports movies are a lot like church, complete with the homoeroticism and rituals, though to be honest, church members probably have less substance abuse problems.
I don’t really have anything against sports movies. I just don’t dig being told that each one is the greatest and more inspiring than the last. When it comes to fantastic sports movies, I can only name two that I think really achieve that level of splendor usually only reserved for Burt Reynolds’ films: Radio and “The Program.”
“Radio” is a movie worth mentioning only because of Cuba Gooding, Jr., who used this film to prove that he is the ultimate whore. I’ve got fuel for two hundred and thirty-nine columns because of him in Billy Bob teeth poorly imitating a mentally retarded man all while thinking, “Oscar two, Oscar two!” The man is a fucking genius, and “Radio” proved that we couldn’t teach him anything. He was teaching us how to torpedo a career.
“The Program” doesn’t suffer from the same problems as “Radio.” Yeah, it was a bit tired, but that still isn’t as bad as Cuba riding around in a shopping cart. What “The Program” did have that sets it above other sports movies, however, is a die-hard following that was willing to go the extra mile to prove its loyalty to the film and the game of football. How? Kids imitated one of the scenes in the movie and laid down amongst moving traffic.
Any film that can get young people to put their lives on the line deserves some kind of special “Thanks for Helping to Keep the Population Down” award. Instead of kudos on a job well done, though, “The Program” had parents and social critics in an uproar. You can’t blame movies for stupid kids. It doesn’t work, folks, and it lets parents off the hook far too easily. These kids were dumb. Just be glad they weren’t watching “Superman.”
Inspirational? For sure.
“Friday Night Lights” is about a high school football team. Where I live, high school football is covered on the local news like it’s the Superbowl. These athletes are given screen time to spout off the same cliches their heroes utter. It means just as much coming out of their mouths as it does coming out of Jerry Rice’s. When I watch the coverage, I can’t help but think, “Who the hell cares about this other than the parents, the kids, and the guys who never really let go of their marginally successful time on the field their senior year?” I can’t bear to watch a high school football game unless a relative is in it. I’m definitely not going to watch a movie about it … even if it stars the guy Lara Croft used to screw.
It seems to me that sports movies are pretty hard to screw up. They’re like romantic dramas for men. Instead of someone dying just when they find true love, it’s an underdog team rising to the top. “I knew they could do it! I just knew it!” Ridiculous. Or, if you want to throw in a “shock” ending where the team loses, you’ll have a character say, “Well, they almost made it. They were good, though. I’ll be damned if they didn’t play their best.” Cue the music.
I will probably get some angry, poorly written e-mails about my cavalier attitude toward the Great American Sports Movie. I want to be clear, though. I don’t hate the genre. I just despise how it is marketed to the public. People who memorize sports statistics and worship athletes like they’re porn stars may fall for the hype, but there are those of us who remember the last “great” sports movie, and we know it fell far short of the title. Besides, why would anyone take a critique from “Sports Illustrated” seriously? I know I can’t. Next thing you know, “Redbook” will be recommending we all go see the “best family comedy” since “Garfield.” And some people will be heard to utter, “If ‘Redbook’ recommends it, it must be good.”
Remember the Titans? No. But I’ll never forget Radio.
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Posted on January 20, 2005 in Features by Doug Brunell
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