By Lucas Allen
With the current NFL season coming to an end, those looking for a feel-good story of the sport will find something to enjoy in the new bio-drama “American Underdog.” Based on his autobiography, it tells the story of Kurt Warner’s rise to football infamy as an undrafted rookie. It’s directed by the Erwin Brothers, whose previous work includes the faith-based music drama “I Can Only Imagine.”
Starting in the early 90s, Kurt (Zachary Levi) is a star quarterback for the University of Iowa’s Panthers. One night in a country bar, he meets Brenda (Anna Paquin) a former Marine and divorcee raising two kids, including her son Zack (Hayden Zaller), who’s legally blind. The two of them soon develop a relationship as Kurt chases his dream of playing for the NFL. But after many setbacks, Kurt ends up working at a local supermarket to try to support Brenda and her family. Eventually, he joins an arena football team, the Iowa Barnhouses coached by Jim Foster (Bruce McGill).
Through hard work and determination, Kurt leads his team to the finals. After a game, he gets a chance to finally be in the NFL as the backup quarterback for the St. Louis Rams when he is chosen by the team’s head coach Dick Vermeil (Dennis Quaid). But Kurt will have to prove himself as well with Rams’ offense coordinator Mike Martz (Chance Kelley) to find out if he finally has the courage to make his dreams come true.
Basically, this is your perfectly average sports bio-drama, with every cliché in the book used. While it can be a turn-off for many viewers, it can be considered comfort food for any fan of the game. The story itself is certainly an interesting one, showing the perseverance and courage to try to defy the odds. Despite some time condensing to keep the film under two hours, the story is nicely told hitting some of the right highlights including Warner’s debut game with the Rams as the climax. There are pacing issues in some scenes that could’ve been trimmed for a better flow.
As average as this movie is, there is some heart put into this movie especially with the involvement of the Warners themselves. For what it’s worth, the script’s repetitive dialogue isn’t all that annoying as you might think. Some of those lines might’ve worked more as motivational posters than actual movie dialogue. But if you’re OK with that, the movie is still a relaxing experience in the theater or at home.
While it’s certainly hilarious to cast a 40-year-old actor as a character in his younger 20s, Levi does a pretty good job imbuing the real Kurt Warner’s struggling ambitions. Paquin gets extra points for bringing dimensions to her character as well as her on-screen chemistry with Levi. McGill helps bring levity with some funny moments, while Quaid does the standard mentor role alright in a small supporting role. Special mention goes to newcomer Zaller for being the surprising heart of the film.
There is heart to American Underdog, and that’s pretty much what it achieved. It’ll likely play well with football fans and older viewers. For something that’s average for the genre, it certainly has those simple pleasures.
THE MOVIE’S RATING: PG (for thematic elements and some language)
THE CRITIC’S RATING: 2.75 Stars (Out of Four)