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edge staff writer


Kid-friendly ‘Home Team’ can’t find the end zone

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Fans of the NFL are probably aware that Sean Payton, longtime coach of the New Orleans Saints, stepped down after this past season. However, they might not be aware that a new film involving the last time Payton “stepped down” has hit Netflix.

“Home Team,” directed by Charles and Daniel Kinnane and starring Kevin James, tells the story of what Payton got up to during his year-long suspension following the headhunting “Bountygate” scandal that involved Saints players getting paid to outright injure opposing players (not that this movie is all that interested in digging too deeply into that story).

No, what we get here is a focus on what Payton did while he was gone. Specifically, he apparently spent some time working with his son’s sixth-grade football team in Texas. And so, with the full power of Adam Sandler behind it, “Home Team” turns one of the biggest NFL scandals of the past decade into fodder for a kid-friendly sports movie.

It’s not great, folks. Now, it isn’t quite as terrible as some of Sandler’s previous Netflix productions (it’s worth noting that the man doesn’t appear in this one, though the rest of his usual roster is present and accounted for – and yes, that includes family), but that’s a low bar. It’s derivative of pretty much every kid-oriented sports movie you’ve seen … and worse than most of them.

The film starts with a quick rundown of Payton’s Saints tenure to that point – including the Super Bowl title – before breezing through a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it take on the bounty thing. We meet Coach Payton (James) as he makes his way through the Saints offices; we get a sense that he’s both driven and kind of a jerk, courtesy of his interactions with an intern named Emily (Chloe Fineman).

Then the suspension happens. Since he can’t be around the team, Payton decides to remember that he has a kid and heads to Texas to spend some time with him.

Payton’s son Connor (Tait Blum) is a pretty good football player on a very bad team, coached by let’s-have-fun go-getter Troy Lambert (Taylor Lautner) and creaky sodden imbecile Mitch Bizone (Gary Valentine). Payton’s ex-wife Beth (Jackie Sandler) has remarried, to Jamie (Rob Schneider), a wad of outdated hippie clichés shaped like Rob Schneider.

Payton is ostensibly there just to support his son, but it isn’t long before he just can’t stop himself from trying to help. This leads to an offer to join the coaching staff from Coach Lambert and then we’re off.

Of course, the team is bad. And it’s bad in all the standard ways your lovable underdog teams are bad in this kind of movie. There’s the overweight kid whose weight is a running joke (Max Simkins). There’s a star player (Jacob Perez) whose overbearing dad is an issue. There’s a kicker (Manny Magnus) who can’t kick when the girl he likes is there. There’s a player who doesn’t like contact (Bryant Tardy) and another one who can’t remember the plays unless they’re analogized via Mexican food (Merek Mastrov). You get it.

But when Payton starts running the offense, the team starts to get improve. They win a few games and things are looking up, but when circumstances place the spotlight back on Payton, he forgets the point of it all – to get closer to his son and have some fun – and falls back into a win at all cost mentality. Only this time, what it costs might be his relationship with his son.

And there you have it. “Home Team” has plenty of on-field hijinks and a smattering of the standard sort of gags you expect from an Adam Sandler production, but it’s all been relatively cleaned up for the kiddie crowd. Don’t worry, though – you’ll get your extended sequence of multiple people throwing up, because Mr. Sandler is well aware of his audience’s expectations.

It’s an odd choice for Kevin James, as the film’s insistence on painting Payton in a positive light means that we don’t get any of the goofiness or physicality that is, to be honest, more or less the extent of what James brings to the table. It feels like there are restrictions on the character, which means that there are no real stakes. Bountygate is glossed over. Even the development of Payton’s relationship with his son feels tacked-on; little of what happens feels earned.

Basically, it feels as if the mandate was that Payton had to be likable at all times. His relationship with his ex is amicable, even considering the presence of a weird new husband. He slides into the coaching staff with almost no friction. Even when he’s dealing with the minor inconveniences of his living situation or getting “tough” with kids or their parents, he’s never presented as anything other than a great guy.

The kids do a pretty solid job, all things considered. None of them really stand out aside from Blum, but that feels like it’s by design – they’re awkward and hammy, but in these circumstances, it works. Lautner looks to be trying his best; he’s fine, albeit without a lot to really do. The rest of the supporting cast is the usual tsunami of nepotism. Sandler’s wife and two of his kids have credited roles. Valentine is James’s brother. Sandlerian remora Schneider is here doing his shtick, of course, as is career coattail-rider Allen Covert; we get some Dan Patrick, along with cameos from folks like Bill Cowher, Jim Nantz and Payton himself.

Here’s the deal – I didn’t hate “Home Team.” Don’t get me wrong – it’s a bad movie – but as someone who has a soft spot for youth sports underdog movies, I had an OK time. That said, I recognize that your mileage may very much vary; don’t come into this one expecting “The Mighty Ducks” or even “Little Giants” and you’ll probably be fine.

“Home Team” is occasionally able to move the ball, but ultimately, the movie fails to find the end zone.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 31 January 2022 11:02


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