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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Bobby Farrelly
scr Mark Rizzo
prd Paul Brooks, Scott Niemeyer, Jeremy Plager
with Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson, Matt Cook, Ernie Hudson, Cheech Marin, Kevin Iannucci, James Day Keith, Joshua Felder, Madison Tevlin, Casey Metcalfe, Ashton Gunning, Barbara Pollard
release US/UK 10.Mar.23
23/US Focus 1h03
Is it streaming?
Deploying the usual inspirational/heartwarming sports movie formula, director Bobby Farrelly stirs edgy humour with an open-handed take on people who are often marginalised. So while it's fully predictable, the story is also pointed and jaggedly comical. Because it involves basketball and an anarchic central character, the film is also a nice play on Woody Harrelson's persona, offering him a chance to shine in a spiky but ultimately loveable role.
Charged with drunk driving in Des Moines, Iowa, hotheaded basketball coach Marcus (Harrelson) is sentenced to community service working with a sparky team of players who have cognitive disabilities. His mentor Phil (Hudson) encourages Marcus to get to know the teammates on a more personal level than usual, and soon they're on track to play in the Special Olympics in Winnipeg. Along the way, he falls for Alex (Olson), protective big sister of star player Johnny (Iannucci). He also helps Benny (Keith) stand up for himself and he finds understanding with gifted hotshot Darius (Felder).
Of course, Marcus as much an underdog than his charming team, each of whom has running gags all his or her own. The script gives a few their own story arc, while the main plot centres on Marcus' rehabilitation from angry curmudgeon to only occasionally crotchety nice guy. Not one element in the narrative is surprising, as it ticks each of the boxes along the way. But there's some entertaining spiciness in the humour, which is more grown-up than expected. This helps make sure that the surges of emotion never turn sentimental.
Harrelson fully dives into the role, which almost makes this feel like a 30-years-later sequel to White Men Can't Jump. He makes Marcus straight-talking without being nasty, dismissive without being cruel. So even though he's a mess, it's there's clearly hope for him, without smoothing out his rough edges too much. His interaction with Olson's take-no-nonsense Alex is enjoyably tart, even when the melodrama sets in. And the kids shine brightly, particularly Iannucci, Keith, Felder and expert scene-chewer Tevlin.
A remake of a 2018 Spanish comedy, the premise offers a wonderful portrait that crushes stereotypes and challenges underlying prejudices that are often couched in misguided notions about quality of life. Because there is so much joy and engaging energy on display, this is the kind of film that can't help but force the viewer to confront attitudes they don't even know they have. So while the story is never remotely challenging, its underlying ideas will have an important impact.
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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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