Granger on Movies: 'When the Game Stands Tall'
Based on the true story of a Catholic high school in suburban Concord, Calif., and its football team's longest winning streak, the film introduces the De La Salle Spartans, whose 151-game winning streak (1992 to 2003) remains a national gridiron record.
Then, in late 2003, after the Spartans win yet another state championship, Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) suffers a heart attack and their star player, T.K. Kelly (Stephan James), is killed in a random shooting, just as he's preparing to move to Eugene, Ore., to play college football. Not long after, the Spartans lose the first two games of the 2004 season. Deducing that the team has become cocky, far more focused on achieving personal glory than teamwork, newly recovered Coach Lad (who also teaches religious studies) and his longtime assistant coach Terry Eddison (Michael Chiklis) decide to impart lessons about discipline and good sportsmanship.
Reciting from Matthew 23:13: "Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled. And whoever humbles himself shall be exalted."
Part of Sony Pictures' push toward faith-based productions under its Affirm Films label, it's a formulaic sports drama, adapted into a sermonizing parable by Scott Marshall Smith and David Zelon from Neil Hayes' 2003 nonfiction book and directed at a laconic pace by Thomas Carter ("Coach Carter"). Unfortunately, none of the characters is memorable, and the stereotypical team members are virtually indistinguishable, except for running back Chris Ryan, played by Alexander Ludwig, a former child star from "Race to Witch Mountain" (2009) who plays Tribute Cato in "The Hunger Games." Even the football scrimmage sequences are bland, barring the climactic match. Having established his reputation as Jesus in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," Jim Caviezel is no stranger to stoic, secular righteousness. And as his dutiful wife, Laura Dern's considerable talent is totally wasted.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "When the Game Stands Tall" is an insipid, fumbling 4, even though it's filled with earnest intentions.