- on Friday, 13 November 2015 16:18
- by Frank Wilkins
The new sports movie, My All American, from Hoosiers and Rudy writer Angelo Pizzo has its heart in the right place. After all, it’s a wholesome, christian-backed, PG-rated, inspirational tale about an undersized kid looking to live out his dream as a college football player. But that’s also its main failing.
The film’s protagonist is Freddie Steinmark (Finn Whitrock) a straight-laced kid brought up in a two-parent household and who spent almost all his free time attending Catholic mass and improving his scholastic studies. Certainly worthy traits that seem to have lost priority in today’s world but, nonetheless, Freddie just isn’t very interesting. And neither is his story, quite frankly, as told by Pizzo who also takes the megaphone as director this time around.
Pizzo bookends his story (adapted from Jim Dent’s novel titled Courage Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story) with Aaron Eckhart in full-on old man get-up as legendary University of Texas football coach Darrel Royal who presided over the team throughout the 60s and most of the 70s. Royal is giving a post-career interview to an eager young journalist who reminds the coach that his most memorable All-American player wasn’t actually an All-American. Royal’s foreshadowed response – that he indeed wasn’t an All-American, but he was MY All-American – provides an early indication that we’re not dealing with Oscar material here. Would anyone like a little wine with the cheese being served up?
Via flashback, we learn that despite his diminutive stature, Freddie’s discipline towards his athletic pursuits coupled with an intense desire to win, catches the attention of then UT football coach Royal who offered the high school senior a full-ride scholarship to the University. With girlfriend Linda (Sarah Bolger) in tow, the two make their way to Austin where Rudy, er, I mean Freddie, pushes himself to overcome the fierce challenges brought about by his small size and Coach Royal’s asthma-inducing practices meant to weed out the weak.
It’s not spoiling anything to point out that Freddie not only makes the team but even has a significant impact, as he leads the Longhorns victoriously through the now-defunct Southwest Conference and on to the National Championship game which featured Royal’s #1 Longhorns against the Arkansas Razorbacks who were ranked #2 in the country. However, it would be a bit of a spoiler (if you haven’t already watched the film’s trailer or even wikipedia’d his story) to reveal Freddie’s biggest challenge that has little to do with playing the game he loves. But let’s just say that the very tragic and sad real-life story is played for maximum emotional kick – emphasized with a swelling John Paesano score – yet fails to land the guttural impact it shoots for.
Yes, Freddie’s is a heart-rending story. And one that should be told. But there’s just nothing thematically interesting about Pizzo’s A-to-Z way of telling it. And no, a bookended flashback doesn’t make it any more interesting. It just brings undue added attention to Eckhart’s poor make-up job. Coaches speak in sports-as-life motivational slogans drawn out by distracting Texas drawls, the football action is simply way too violent for us to take seriously, and the lack of any real formidable antagonist leaves the entire experience feeling a bit empty.
Director Buzz Kulik nailed the proper sentiment in the similarly themed Brian’s Song that starred James Caan and Billy Dee Williams back in 1971. I suspect that’s what Pizzo was going for here. But in My All American, he is unable to tap into the same source of genuine emotion and heartfelt empathy that drove Brian’s Song. Freddie is good at football, lives a clean life, experiences tragedy, roll credits. We’re never invested in the sanitary white-bread story that renounces drama and entertainment for the sake of accuracy and its squeaky-clean PG rating. Save it for ESPN 30 for 30. Then again, perhaps don’t. Even ESPN prefers a little edge to their stories.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, language and brief partial nudity
Runtime: 118 mins
Director: Angelo Pizzo
Writer: Angelo Pizzo
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Finn Wittrock, Robin Tunney
Genre: Sports | Action
Tagline: Hope Never Quits
Memorable Movie Quote: "His dad trains him pretty hard.He's here every day after practice."
Distributor: Clarius Entertainment
Official Site: http://www.myallamerican.com/all
Release Date: November 13, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: The true story, UT's 1969 national championship-winning football team heroes, Coach Darrell Royal and defensive back Freddie Steinmark.
No details available.