Review by Dan Skip Allen
It's no secret that I am a huge sports fan. I follow all the Boston teams, including the New England Patriots — the team that won their first Super Bowl at the expense of the (then) St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Kurt Warner was the quarterback of the Rams at that time. As a Patriots fan, even I can get behind the story of an American Underdog like Kurt Warner. I even had a tear in my eye at a couple of emotional scenes.
The film picks up as Warner (Zachary Levi) is playing for North East Iowa. He goes through a lot to be the starting quarterback. This doesn't help him get drafted into the NFL, but he does get signed as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers. His stint there doesn't last as he's fired after two days in camp. He has to go back home to Iowa with his tail between his legs. He takes a job as a stocker at a grocery store to make ends meet before his career as a football player finally takes off.
Warner couldn't do everything in his life without the support of his family and friends. That includes his wife Brenda (Anna Paquin, The Piano). When Warner first meets Brenda, she tells him she has two children. Only when he meets her at her home does he realize she has a blind autistic son and still lives with her parents. This relationship will last through thick and thin, though. That's what true love is: a relationship that stays together through the good times and the bad. This was part of the strength of Warner's life and at the core of this story.
Jon and Andrew Erwin aren't the most famous or popular directing duo, but they have amassed a very nice filmography under their belts. Films such as Woodlawn, I Still Believe, and I Can Only Imagine have made up their career. I've seen them all. They all have a Christian feel to them. That's what makes them stand apart from other directing duo's. Their latest film American Underdog is in the same vein as their other films. They take real people and tell their stories with a Christian twist to them. It works very well.
Sports movies and especially football movies can be notoriously hard to make look realistic. This film isn't the best-looking sports film by any stretch of the imagination. It's not the best football movie either. What it does have is heart and love involved in it that sets it apart from others of the same nature. There were some very emotional scenes in this film. Scenes that even made a tough guy like me tear up a couple of times. There is a quote Warner's mother says that stuck with me after I saw the film: "Winning means everything unless you don't have anyone to share it with." So he picked Brenda and her kids and he will do anything for them.
The cast in the film is very good with a few famous faces besides Levi and Paquin. Dennis Quaid has been in more than a few sports films in his career and he adds American Underdog to the list. He plays Dick Vermeil, ex-head coach of the Rams and Eagles. This isn't the first football coach he's played in his career either. And he's worked with the Erwin Brothers before as well, on I Can Only Imagine. Adam Baldwin, Chance Kelly, and Bruce McGill round out this stellar cast as other football coaches in Warner's past.
Warner was involved in every step of turning his life into a major motion picture, and it shows. There are a lot of details only he could know about that make this true-life story work so well. Various scenes in bars learning line dancing or running out of gas and having to walk many miles in the cold and snow help make this film and story come to life. From the cars to hairstyles and clothes, this film is very authentic to the period. Even the Rams uniforms are done very well. This biopic is a time capsule into Warner's inspirational life. It works on all levels.
As far as inspirational true-life Christian stories go, this is one of the better ones in recent memory. The Erwin Brothers have this genre all to their own and they embrace making this kind of spiritual faith-based film. It shows in the end product. The acting by all is very good, but Levi and Paquin make this film work with their chemistry on screen. The football scenes are okay, but not great. It's not easy recreating football scenes from the past. In a holiday season of sequels, prequels, and reboots, American Underdog might be the go-to for a change. And it's a very good film to boot. That's coming from a huge Patriots fan.
American Underdog hits theaters on December 22.