'American Underdog' review: Kurt Warner's cliché riddled biopic comes up short of the goal line
Courtesy of Lionsgate
An old fashioned feel-good tale of determination, hard-work and homegrown values, the cliché riddled Kurt Warner biopic “American Underdog” belongs on the Hallmark channel. The story about the best undrafted quarterback of all time, Andrew and Jon Erwin’s amicable story about the prolific St Louis Ram MVP knows how to put together a winning portrait of its central figure (Zachary Levi at the helm doesn’t hurt) but muffles the punt when it comes to shooting football sequences. There must be a law that states all football scenes, in movies about the sport, must look as though they were pulled from a cut scene on Madden 97. The entire third act of “American Underdog” is drowned out by the digitized gaze of laughable green screen intercut with actual highlights of the game being dramatized.
The Erwin brothers create a lopsided structure to “American Underdog” as it takes two/thirds of the movie before a single NFL snap occurs on screen. Instead, the film puts more emphasis on the rise of Warner than it is about his wild (and unbelievable) NFL career. What could have been an inspirational tale of one man’s determination to beat the odds and prove everyone wrong ends up becoming an underwritten and banal family drama and a terrible sports movie.
Based on the book by Warner called “All Things Possible,” which was adapted by the Erwin’s and David Aaron Cohen, “American Underdog” never feels like a complete movie. From choppy editing, horrible wigs, to a love story ripped from the pages of a scrapped Nicholas Sparks novel, there’s nothing authentic or admirable displayed here. Did I mention the football action is painfully inept and rendered through the lens of an old Nintendo 64?
Warner’s journey isn’t a simple one, but “American Underdog” gives you the sparks note version of what happened, dragging it out in the process. It finds the future NFL hall of famer trying to make a starting QB bid his senior year at the University of Northern Iowa. He’s a second stringer left pleading with his coach for a shot as his lack of playing time doesn’t make him look favorable in the draft. During a night out after practice he meets future wife Brenda Meoni (Anna Paquin) who is a former marine and mother of two children, one of them, Zack is legally blind. They vow to make their relationship work even if that means Kurt stocks groceries while Brenda goes to nursing school.
The entire second half is dedicated to Warner’s illustrious start in the Arena Football League, a second chance that nets him real cash but not without causing friction with Brenda. When he eventually gets the call from Dick Vermeil (Dennis Quaid), the coach of the Rams, to become the backup QB all the pieces slowly fall into place while the Erwin brothers steer a familiar course without a sliver of cinematic creativity. Why the duo decided to throw Warner’s Super Bowl run on the backburner and make his accomplishments footnotes in the closing credits never makes sense.
Levi and Paquin find a silver of humanity in these people to rise above the schmaltz, though the gooey dialogue and awkward chemistry are several yards short of a first down. To its credit, “American Underdog” doesn’t become a preachy religious exercise unlike the Erwin brothers’ previous efforts, but a hail Mary couldn’t save this drama from getting etched into the museum of bad sports flicks.
AMERICAN UNDERDOG opens in theaters Christmas day.