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When the Game Stands Tall' fumbles

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Inspired-by-real-life sports movie lacks for inspiration

It's no secret that I'm a sucker for inspirational sports movies. I'm known for it. And if you give me an inspirational sports movie inspired by a true story, then I'm even more in. And if it turns out that said inspirational sports movie is centered on a high school team, then believe it or not, I'm even MORE in.

So you might say that 'When the Game Stands Tall' is kind of in my wheelhouse.

It has everything team starts out on top, then has to overcome adversity both on and off the field; gifted athletes who are nonetheless still boys trying to become men; wise elder statesmen coaches whose sole aim is to steer those boys on their journey, actual game results be damned.

So why didn't I fall in love with it?

It's based on the exploits of California's De La Salle High School, whose Spartans football team set a national record by winning 151 games in a row; they took a dozen straight championships and shattered any and all American sports winning streak records.

Bob Ladoucer (Jim Caviezel, TV's 'Person of Interest') is the head coach at De La Salle. He and his assistant Terry Eidson (Michael Chiklis, 'Parker') have built a team of young men that are good football players, yes but also good people. These coaches ask not for perfection, but rather a perfect effort a small distinction, perhaps, but an important one.

This effort leads to a championship, but with the transition to the new season, the new captains - running back Chris Ryan (Alexander Ludwig, 'Lone Survivor'), whose overbearing father Mick (Clancy Brown, TV's 'Sleepy Hollow') wants his son to break the state scoring record, and Danny Ladoucer (Matthew Daddario, 'Delivery Man'), the coach's son find it difficult to maintain the tradition of putting the team before the individual. And when tragedy strikes, the team struggles to come together.

Those struggles include the end of the legendary winning streak. It comes down to Coach Ladoucer and the rest of the team to determine whether that streak is all that defines them or whether they can reach down deep and come up with enough to overcome even this newest obstacle to their successes both on the field and off.

'When the Game Stands Tall' hits all the expected notes, but for whatever reason, it falls short of the sum of its parts. There's nothing wrong with utilizing the tropes of the genre plenty of movies have been successful that way but for whatever reason, they miss more often than hit here.

The game action is actually pretty good; no surprise considering the football sequences were helmed by Allan Graf, who performed similar duties for the excellent 'Friday Night Lights' television series. Those scenes had a feeling of engaged urgency of which, frankly, the rest of the movie could have used a healthy dose. Of course, there were rousing speeches and sweeping music and emotional moments, but even the stuff that worked felt forced and a bit manipulative.

Caviezel is OK as Coach Ladoucer, albeit a little underwhelming. Chiklis has a couple of moments, but he too feels wasted. The father/son dynamic between Ludwig and Brown came off as both heavy-handed and totally typical an unfortunate combination. Daddario doesn't bring much to the table either. Laura Dern ('The Fault in Our Stars') is good in her scenes as Ladoucer's wife, but there's not much she can do. Ser'Darius Blain ('Camp X-Ray'), Stephan James ('Perfect Sisters'), Joe Massingill (TV's 'Hart of Dixie') and Jesse Usher (TV's 'Level Up') all have some good moments as De La Salle players.

All that being said, I still enjoyed this movie; I just recognize that my enjoyment came despite the film's myriad flaws.

The truth is that this film lacks the soul possessed by many of its ilk. For whatever reason, it just doesn't click. 'When the Game Stands Tall' clearly intends for us to root for the De La Salle Spartans, but despite the film's best efforts, it never really gives us a good enough reason. In the end, it's a decent drive, but we wind up with a turnover on downs.

[1.5 out of 5]


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