When the Game Stands Tall

Directed By: Thomas Carter

Starring: Jim Caviezel, Laura Dern, Michael Chiklis, Alexander Ludwig, and Clancy Brown

These August movies are really starting to get to me.  Good movies are just hard to find in this climate.  With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reigning supreme for the last two weeks at the box office, it's a moviegoer's worst nightmare come true.  As I make my way to the next wave of torturously bad flicks, I begin with a high school football film, this weekend's When the Game Stands Tall.  It is needless to say that this sports drama is no Remember the Titans or Friday Night Lights.

At De La Salle High School in California, the students' football team the Spartans has amassed one of the great records in all of sports history.  Led by Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), they've won a stunning 151 games in a row against their competitors, which is the longest streak ever.  All good things must come to an end, however.  Things go terribly awry when the class of 2005, the new seniors, must rise to the challenge.  First, Coach Ladouceur has a heart attack.  Then, Oregon-bound graduate and former Spartan teammate T.K. Kelly (Stephan James) is killed in a random act of violence.  Finally, the streak comes to an end at the start of the 2004-2005 season.  Now, Coach Ladouceur and his assistant coach Terry Eidson (Michael Chiklis) must pull the team together to survive.  Meanwhile, the coach and his wife Bev (Laura Dern) try to keep the family together.

I've got nothing good to say about When the Game Stands Tall.  All I can say is that I've seen better.  When I've got a movie on my hands that uses every cliché in the playbook, features underwhelming performances, and offers bland scenes on and off the field, there's nothing more I really can say, except drink up.  Director Thomas Carter really drops the ball here.  On the one hand, he tries to tell a story in which life is more than just some high school football game or some streak.  On the other, he romanticizes the time the Spartans spend on the field and the camaraderie they develop.  He can't have it both ways.  Because he tries to have his cake and eat it too, we end up with a choppy film that dabbles in various thematic elements and storylines yet never becomes a coherent piece of cinema.

The performances from our stars leave a lot to be desired.  As Coach Bob Ladouceur, Jim Caviezel is absolutely stale on screen.  He's monotone in everything he does.  He wears a pouty face most of the film.  He brings no personality whatsoever to the role.  Because of all this, he gives a performance emblematic of this undercooked film.  For her part as his wife Bev, Laura Dern brings very little personality to the screen as well.  In Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master just two short years ago, Dern has somehow found herself in teen fare twice this year with The Fault In Our Stars and now When the Game Stands Tall.  As Ladouceur's assistant coach Terry Eidson, Michael Chiklis doesn't bring that much to the table either.  He's doesn't inspire much empathy one way or the other with his performance.  Lastly, we have Clancy Brown as Mickey Ryan.  The character actor once again gives us an antagonistic loudmouth and does nothing fresh or inventive in the role.

It's clear where I stand on When the Game Stands Tall.  The film lacks creativity, originality, and purpose.  This football movie gets a 0.09% rating.  Have a rum and coke with this one.