The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part
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There's an element of magic here, and it's safe to say that a certain degree of disbelief needs to be suspended, but even children may suffer to get much out of this foreign signing.
Formulaic football drama has positive messages, no surprises
There's scarcely a moment that doesn't feel hackneyed; at its best, it's like Friday Night Lights (movie or series) drained of everything remotely distinctive.
Sports films are a dime a dozen. While the names, locations, and even the sport changes, the story rarely does, so what makes one film better than the rest? An eager young cast, a compelling back story, and a setting rarely seen before, all help Underdogs become that rare sports film that does more than just pump you up, it sticks with you and really makes you appreciate things that most people overlook. In Ohio, football is life, from the pros right down to the High School level and in the suburbs of Canton, Hoover is the name on everyone's bumper sticker, but they're not the only team in town. Across town is a division four team, the St. Thomas Aquinas Knights, a catholic school team that has never received any attention of any kind. Being a D4 team, even if they won all their games, they won't be going anywhere. The players, while talented are uninspired, until a new coach comes to town and makes them believe in themselves. The film is based on a true story and stars V's Logan Huffman as Quarterback, Bill Burkett. Huffman is always one of these guys you see in the background of a film and never really take notice of. In Underdogs, much like his character, Huffman steps up and really puts on a performance that I never would have expected. On and off the field the character being portrayed is so profound, that anyone would have a hard time making him believable. Not only does Logan Huffman do the impossible, but he does so in such a compelling way, that I added everything he's ever been in to my queue, once the film was over. Even though there is a lot more here than in your typical sports film, Huffman ties all the elements together, in a very special way, you seldom see anymore. To say his performance was legendary, truly does it a disservice. Even if you hate football, as a fan of movies, you should see this film just to witness the unbelievable performance of Logan Huffman, because he really was that good. As for the rest of the film, Underdogs was centered on football, but wasn't entirely about the team, it was also about the town, and how different one side can be from the other. The story of this town is almost as interesting as what's happening on the gridiron. Underdogs is a small budget, direct-to-video film, but much like the Knights, it packs a punch and really gives the big boys a run for their money.
Underdogs isn't a particularly nuanced film. It's obvious from the film's opening montage, that director Doug Dearth and writers David Latham and Benjamin Suarez are primarily interested in making an unabashed crowd pleaser that celebrates the importance of hard work, honesty and community by telling the fact-based story of a Ohio high school football team that beat the odds to become hometown heroes. In an age of endlessly convoluted blockbusters and morally ambiguous protagonists, some turn up their noses at such clear eyed, uncomplicated decency but a film this sweet is undeniably refreshing in a year where one of the highest grossing films of the year saw Superman resort to murder.
The film follows tough but fair coach Vince DeAntonio (D.B. Sweeney) as he tries to turn the Division 4 Saint Thomas Aquinas Knights into a team of serious contenders. As opposed to Friday Night Light's Coach Taylor, DeAntonio isn't much for rousing locker room speeches, he's more of an old school taskmaster, the kind of guy who makes his boys run wind sprints after a losing game because he knows it'll make them do better next time. Sweeney does a great job conveying the steely determination that every great coach needs and letting the same steeliness drop when pursuing a low-key romance with a local bartender (Natalie Imbrugila). His isn't a showy performance but it has a lived in charm that is hard to deny.
In a parallel storyline, William Mapother plays a soft-spoken factory worker and aspiring inventor named Bill Burkett who risks his finances and livelihood to develop a revolutionary new type of space heater. Coincidentally, Burkett is the father of St. Aquinas' star quarterback Bobby (Logan Huffman) and his struggle to assert his copyright against his conniving space heater magnate boss (Richard Portnow) mirrors his son's attempts to woo cheerleader Renee (Maddie Hasson) away from her domineering boyfriend (Charlie Carver) who just happens to be the quarterback for Aquinas' crosstown rival. At first glance, this storyline seems to needlessly draw attention away from the Knights quest to victory but Mapother's quietly powerful performance makes his journey one of the film's most compelling elements.
With a film titled Underdogs, there isn't a lot suspense about whether or not the scrappy kids from the working class part of town will beat the snotty rich kids in the big game at the end of the movie. But plot twists aren't the draw for adapted from a true story movies like these, it's about reaffirming that sometimes the good guys do win and that they can keep their hands clean doing it. It works as a reminder that even in Ohio, it's possible for some hometown boys to do the impossible and pull off a win at the last second. Underdogs is a movie that you watch on those cold winter days when it seems like the Browns' can't complete a pass to save their lives to remind yourself that the potential for greatness lies in all of us.
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