WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL
BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
DECEMBER 23, 2014
One part spiritual drama, one part “Varsity Blues,” neither quite lands their footing in “When The Game Stands Tall.” Based on the true story of the De La Salle Spartans high school football team who had a record-setting 151-game 1992–2003 winning streak, the film picks up around their eventual defeat and the emotional and spiritual journey that follows when trying to get the streak back. Just short of memorable lines like “I don’t want your life,” the film piles on too much, overwhelming with the multiple themes and story-lines that happen simultaneously. A father is angry because his son’s not playing, a black teammate heading off to college is gunned down, and the coach struggles with his health issues, all of which do not even scratch the surface of the happenings in this film. Following in the footsteps of every other football drama ever made, “When The Game Stands Tall” even tries capitalizing on the recent success of faith-based films by tacking on a spiritual theme, as De La Salle is a Catholic high school. Still, it just ends up feeling blatant and forced.
“Varsity Blues” became the classic that it is today because it was gritty and pushed boundaries in 1999. It reflected what was happening in small towns that were only driven by sports. It launched careers for most of the ensemble cast and even spawned several parodies years later. “When The Game Stands Tall” has none of this. The better story might have been following the team with the winning streak, as at least the anticipation of potential losses may have added some suspense. Instead, each football game feels more scripted than usual, telegraphing its moves and stabbing you in the face with its foreshadowing. Everyone in the cast feels like a watered-down version of someone from “Moneyball,” with Jim Caviezel and Michael Chiklis offering some of the year’s worst performances, bringing out laughs when there should be tears or heartwarming moments. If anyone were going to shine, it would have been Alexander Ludwig (“Lone Survivor”) as the running back, Chris, but even he feels like a watered-down version of James Van Der Beek. So save yourself the disappointment, and if you have not seen Brian Robbins’ “Varsity Blues,” pop that in instead, where you will see better performances, hear a better soundtrack, and avoid bombardment by a faith-based afterthought.
August 22, 2014
Scott Marshall Smith
(for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking)