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Football More Than a Game in Gridiron Gang

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2007 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
Football More Than a Game in <i>Gridiron Gang</i>

DVD Release Date:  January 16, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  September 15, 2006
Rating:  PG-13 (for some startling scenes of violence, mature thematic material and language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time: 125 min.
Director:  Phil Joanou
Actors:  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Xzibit, Kevin Dunn, Leon Rippy

For some, football is just a game.  For others, football is life.

Take Sean Porter (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a juvenile probation officer in Los Angeles County frustrated by the stats about his kids:  120,000 juveniles in prison in this country at any given time, with a 75 percent chance of landing right back in prison, one year after release.  That is, if they’re not dead first.

So Porter, a former football star, decides to shake things up.  The system isn’t working, anyway, so why not try something new?  He convinces the prison officials to let him form a football team with the boys, and to allow them to leave the premises each week for games.  He then goes out to find a league with teams that are willing to play on Saturdays, against opponents with rap sheets. 

Despite intense resistance, the coach of a private Christian school finally relents – after Porter’s assistant coach (Xzibit) quotes a few Bible verses about showing mercy and not judging.  Porter then begins looking for funding.  With just four weeks before the first game, and still without any uniforms or equipment, Porter begins training his team, which he dubs “The Mustangs.”

Based on the documentary of the same name, “Gridiron Gang” is a true story that will inspire everyone but the most cynical of critics.  Much of the dialogue was lifted directly from the documentary, which features footage of the real Sean Porter in action.  And he’s one very quotable guy.

“You’re in here because you’re losers,” he says, to his ragtag group of angry, disillusioned misfits.  “Your way didn’t work.  So now you’re going to try it my way.”

They do, and you can guess the results, in typical sports-movie fashion (with a few twists).  Some will call this story a cliché, but sports are only about winning or losing – and how we play the game.  So does that mean we stop telling the story of triumphs, especially when such a story involves overcoming unbelievably difficult odds?  After all, the victory of the human spirit – which is really the triumph over evil and sin – will always move us.  We were created to be thus inspired by our Creator.

Perhaps this is the reason that the film carries such a strong – yet oh-so-softly peddled – Christian message.  Not only do we see a Christian (the coach) willingly doing something noble, but we also hear Scripture quoted in context.  And, far more importantly, we hear a strong message about forgiveness that is put into action by not just the players but Porter as well, after he is humbled by his own words.  It’s powerful teaching that hits all the right notes.  If only other films could manage this with such decorum!

As an actor, Johnson carries the film on his very broad shoulders.  Never do we doubt that this man used to be a football player (he was), nor that he is a seasoned probation officer who truly cares about his kids.  He’s tough, he’s kind and he’s incredibly touching.  Likewise Xzibit, in a supporting role, is equally good – as are all the players, some of whom were actual prisoners who had never acted before.  There was not a sour note among the entire cast, in fact, which is certainly a rarity.

The on-field choreography was quite good, and the plot moves along at a nice place, with various turns that keep the story moving.  Although the film runs 125 minutes, you won’t notice the length, because you’ll be too caught up in the story.  Don’t forget to watch the interviews at the end of the credits, which were taken from the documentary and feature the real Sean Porter with some of the players.  The DVD extras are also fairly interesting.

If there is a cliché in the film, it’s not in the football story.  It’s the subplot about Porter and his dying mother.  But even that doesn’t detract from the film, and it never veers into melodrama.  Mostly, it serves to humanize Porter and to round out his character.  Although this could have been done with more finesse, it works.

Despite the subject matter, “Gridiron Gang” is not a film for children.  The opening sequences and one toward the end of the film are extremely violent, in the style of “Boyz in the Hood,” and the film is full of prison-style language.  For anyone who understands the power of sports to transform a boy into a man, and a man into a role model, however, this is definitely the film to watch. 

For some, football is just a game.  For others – like boys who have no reason to live, and nothing left but hope – football really is life.  So get ready to flick away a few tears, gentlemen.  This one will hit you like a defensive linebacker – right in the gut.

AUDIENCE:  Older teens and up

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Commentary with writer and director
  • “Gridiron Gang” football training featurette
  • “Phil Joanou Profile” – interview with director Phil Joanou
  • “The Rock Takes the Field” – interview with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
  • “Multi-Angle – Football Scene” featurette

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:   Mild.  References to crack cocaine and marijuana use; characters briefly slug alcohol from the bottle in one scene.
  • Language/Profanity:   Strong.  Several dozen obscenities and profanities, one strong, in the context of a juvenile prison.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Mild and brief.  Female prisoners acting as cheerleaders gyrate suggestively.
  • Violence:   Extreme in several brief scenes that include a deadly drive-by shooting, two point-blank shootings (one in self-defense) and an extremely violent murder of a young boy with a car. The rest of the film contains mostly threats of violence and fist fights.