Reviewed by

Bud Carlson

On Tuesday night, I saw a screening of Invincible (the football movie with MarkyMark Wahlberg) ... it's good, but nothing special or noteworthy, a mediocre movie made better because it has football in it. But when push came to shove with that movie, you didn't really care all that much about any of the characters; any emotions you felt towards the people, you felt were exploited out of you by Disney and their formulaic plot-lines. Then, on Wednesday night, I saw a screening of CrossOver (the basketball movie with Wayne Brady as the gangster / sports-agent). It is tough to screw up a basketball movie, but this one was awful, right up there with BasicInstinct2 and DateMovie as contenders for worst movie of the year. I mean you didn't give a damn about any of the characters, whether they turned their lives around, made it to the big-time ... you didn't care if they would have been shot-dead in the street! Ooh, it was bad.

But GridIron Gang is totally different. It's about a guy Sean (The Rock) who is a guard/supervisor at juvenile detention center that's full of gang members and thugs. When one of Sean's favorite kids is killed in gang-related violence the very same day that he is released from juvie, Sean realizes that the current system doesn't work and that things must be done differently. (Studies show that 75% of kids in juvie end up either in jail or dead by the time they are 21.) So Sean decides that, in order for the kids to learn discipline, teamwork, and self-respect, he will start a football team made up of some of the kids. He manages to get the idea approved by the facility, and he somehow convinces a high school football league to let his team be included on their schedules. But the real struggle becomes ... can he get through to the kids?

There is very little in the storyline that is revolutionary here. To say that the plotline is derivative is pretty obvious. Antonio Banderas did it through dancing in "Take The Lead" earlier this year. Samuel L Jackson's character Coach Carter did it with basketball a couple years ago. Dangerous Minds. Lean on Me. Fame, even. But "Gridiron Gang" works on many levels, in spite of the fact that it is not the first movie to tell this type of story.

The primary reason why this movie works is because you will care about these kids almost right from the get-go. You feel their pain and angst, the pressure they are under, and how much they have to overcome just to be kids in the environments in which they are raised. None of the characters are stereotypes (which is so refreshing these days). The background of a couple of these kids is shown in terrible and graphic detail, and you can't help but empathize with them. They are just kids after all, and if they are going to do what is asked of them in order to join the football team, they have to change nearly everything about themselves. As a result, you want to cheer their every success, and you feel their every failure.

Another reason why this movie works as well as it does, is because of The Rock's performance. Look, almost everyone will view this film with skepticism, believing that The Rock is not a good actor. I was skeptical myself, truth be told, and I remain skeptical of his acting capabilities even after seeing this film. But this is the perfect role for him, and I'm not sure that anyone other than him could have pulled this off. For an actor to play an authority-figure at a juvie hall with any credibility requires certain characteristics, and The Rock has those characteristics. This is the perfect role for him, in the perfect movie for him. If you stay for the credits at the end of the movie, you will see some documentary footage of the real Sean, on who this movie is based, and you will see what I mean. He develops a rapport with the kids that realistically no other actor could develop with this kind of credibility. Again, this is his perfect role.

And finally, the movie works on another level altogether ... it is a pretty decent "football" movie. The contact is legitimate, the hitting is fierce, and no punches are pulled. And the locker room scenes are much more true-to-life than most other football movies.

"Gridiron Gang" is a movie I recommend strongly.

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