June 18th, 2021
MOVIE: 12 MIGHTY ORPHANS
STARRING: LUKE WILSON, MARTIN SHEEN, WAYNE KNIGHT, VINESSA SHAW
DIRECTED BY: TY ROBERTS
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
I love a good sports movie. The rise to glory in the Rocky series. The fresh new take we saw in Creed. The inspiration we get from a movie like Rudy, The Natural, or Hoosiers. Field of Dreams is still an all-time favorite of mine. I played sports nearly everyday in my youth, played three sports in high school, and continued my career playing football in college. I wanted 12 Mighty Orphans to be a winner, a story about the real 1930-1940’s Mighty Mites, the underdogs from the Masonic Home and School of Texas, a group of orphan kids that became a great football team. They’ve even been credited with creating the spread offense, ushered in by legendary coach Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson), who became the man able to instill work ethics, and discipline in a group without a leader. All of that would be inspirational stuff, if only Ty Roberts film wasn’t epically boring. 12 Mighty Orphans has a fighting spirit wrapped under a dull sports movie.
Adapted from Jim Dent’s novel, with a screenplay from Lane Garrison, Kevin Meyer, and Roberts, the timeline is during The Great Depression, where the people of America were looking for something, anything to lift their spirits. On top of a world dealing with hunger and the homeless, there was also a rise in children being left behind, and the Masonic Home became a destination for troubled boys and girls. When Rusty Russell arrives, the men are restless, fighting with one another every day, and punished by the disciplinarian in charge- Frank Wynn (Wayne Knight). Changing things is a tall task, with Russell teaching the kids by day, some that can’t even read, and then introducing them to football in the evening. With the support of his lone staff member Doc Hall (Martin Sheen- the best part of the movie), wise words, and patience, the team of young men become a group of winners.
All of that stuff sounds good on paper, but the execution of 12 Mighty Orphans is slower than the molasses in Texas. The format becomes repetitive, with one of the kids fighting with another, an inspiration speech from coach Rusty, a first game where they’re blown out, followed by a montage where the team is starting to get it, and then things click into place. A movie such as Remember the Titans is exhibit A to how it is properly done. 12 Mighty Orphans is the anti-Titans. The collection of football players all look the same, creating a cast of players that offer nothing to hang onto. Not that Luke Wilson should be compared to Denzel Washington, but it’s Wilson’s performance that feels one note, playing a guy who has doubts, a past that sent him on his path to the Masonic home, and leaning on his wife Juanita (Vinessa Shaw) for guidance. Outside of Martin Sheen’s presence, 12 Mighty Orphans had me close to falling asleep.
And I guess one would think that a story about a team changing the entire way football was played would be thrilling, but director Ty Roberts settles for making it a footnote in the process. The football sequences look more staged than authentic, which is not surprising considering the sets, and costumes looked staged as well. What may have rectified all of 12 Mighty Orphans issues would have been some laughter. The setting of The Great Depression is dour enough, and Roberts seems to forget that laughter would be the best medicine in this setting.
In my career of playing football, I would soak up all the information I could read about the game, and I’m pretty sure I heard about the Mighty Mites in passing. Sadly, 12 Mighty Orphans fails to do this team, their story, and the impact they had on the game any justice. There’s no energy. No laughter. And the football is pedestrian. 12 Mighty Orphans is one great depression.
12 MIGHTY ORPHANS IS IN SELECT THEATERS FRIDAY JUNE 18TH
Written by: Leo Brady