Sitting in the theater with the notepad wresting in the empty seat next to me, I stopped taking notes on American Underdog. Not because the film took my breath away, it’s because it became a bullet point inspirational sports film. The artificiality seeps into every aspect of the script. American Underdog: is hero-worship at its worst, where we’re watching the true story about a figure instead of a person.
Kurt Warner (Zachary Levi) is an all-American man who wants nothing more than be a pro football player. His career has been hitting the skids however. Kurt’s hardly left his home state of Iowa. The furthest he got out of there was when he tried out with the Green Bay Packers, a job that lasted for only one day. When removed from the Packers, Kurt stocks the shelves at the local convenience store to make ends meet.
One day he stumbles across his true love in a bar, Brenda (Anna Paquin). Now moved in with Brenda, Kurt struggles to make pro-level. Swallowing his pride, Kurt joins the Iowa Barnstormers in Arena League football, and my brain is barely managing to keep itself awake.
The inspirational sports film has treaded familiar ground much too often. Audiences have been bludgeoned to death from the genre’s tropes for decades. The script has a checkbox quality, assuring it hits every mundane beat. Find love interest in a bar during karaoke dance? Check. Have Dennis Quaid play a coach? Check. Whenever I see a biopic, I’m afraid it’s going to be about another person who’s a saint. Whatever realistic character flaw the protagonist might contain that could add some dimensional is scrapped.
Despite the strong performances from Zachary Levi and Anna Paquin, American Underdog’s story is sculpted from the hollowest of narrative ground. No matter its accuracy to the authentic material, the audience isn’t given much depth to Kurt Warner other than he’s a nice guy who loves to play football.
The perfect image of Mr. Warner fits precisely in place for what the filmmakers are trying to achieve. They want a lovable protagonist who can do no wrong, so he can inspire the audience to be kind to one another. It’s good to see the best in people. Too often, we witness the worst. Without adding a singular flaw to a character, they’re not relatable. That weakness doesn’t have to be a strong one. You don’t need to sculpt a monster, but at least a human being.
I suppose if there is a character flaw in Kurt Warner, it’s his stalker nature. After initially meeting his love interest, Brenda, at the bar, Kurt shows up unannounced to her house the next day since Kurt received Brenda’s address from the bartender. The event is played off with a joke from Brenda about not giving her a phone call first. Is intrusion typical in the south? There’s a ho-hum attitude to everything tying into the filmmaker’s gushiness.
I respect Andrew and Jon Erwin’s attempt at promoting decency. At the very core of the film, American Underdog is about loving those around you. That’s a beautiful message to send to kids. I wish it contained more than a quasi Hallmark Channel quality to it.
The conventions of the uplifting sports drama made each act all the more predictable. Kurt Warner is a young up-and-comer who’s about to hit the big leagues. When he reaches the NFL, things don’t go the way Kurt hoped, yet our hero works his way back up, earning a significant victory for the Saint Louis Rams, validating every decision he’s made throughout the film.
It’s the same character arc played in countless sports flicks. A humble guy achieves success when nobody believes in him but himself. It’s told in Rocky to Remember The Titans. The inspirational sports formula can be remixed into something unique or new like Friday Night Lights. What are the Erwin’s trying to say about Kurt Warner that’s worth telling? I know this film isn’t trying to be different. It’s a simple story about a pleasent man whose generosity is his true sportsmanship.
Kurt Warner becomes a father to Breda’s children, always lends a helping hand to those in need, resurrects the dead, and turns water into wine. The sainthood of Kurt Warner reaches biblical proportions with its emphasis on religion. I think the usage of Christ in American Underdog is tastefully done. I’m not religious, but the Erwin’s promotes Jesus’ teachings of love overcoming fear. Religion works in the story since it’s a vital part of southern culture.
To my shock, American Underdog is getting vast approval. Maybe I’m just a humbug this Christmas. I wasn’t a fan of King Richard, and I’m not a fan of this while everyone else is. I do enjoy being inspired. But I need something other than the same old thing to lift my spirits.
For all the reasons I was underwhelmed with this movie, you may love it. American Underdog is supposed to be formulaic since that’s the entire idea of humility. It’s meant to be shared with the family for quick entertainment.
Everyone will love it since it’s a crowd-pleaser. I like my crowd pleasers too. Spider-Man: No Way Home is a perfect counter-example. Yes, it’s a different genre, yet it aims to play its tropes and themes into something unique. Because of that, audiences keep coming back for more. American Underdog is as memorable as a can of Coca-Cola from a glass bottle. It’s delicious and disposable. For this review, you’ll probably not agree with me.