New football movie’s acting fumbles, recovered by good story

Kristen Kotz

The Rock and Xzibit watch as their team takes the field. PHOTO COURTESY OF COLUMBIA PICTURES

Credit: Jason Hall

Inspiring speeches, an underdog team and a coach willing to go against the odds.

Gridiron Gang has all the attributes of a football movie that is cliche – but nonetheless, inspiring.

The film, directed by Phil Joanou (U2: Rattle and Hum), is based on the true story of Sean Porter, a probation officer at a California detention camp for teenage delinquents who started a football team called the Mustangs for his inmates.

Porter – played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – believes that being part of a team will improve the inmates’ self-esteem and also decrease the number of them who will return to jail.

Overall, Johnson is convincing in his portrayal of Porter, but his acting can be overbearing at times. A specific example occurs when he comes down on players for mistakes they’ve made. It seems as though he is belittling rather than coaching them. This can get on the audience’s nerves at times throughout the movie.

One good thing Gridiron Gang has going for it is that it doesn’t have many slow points. It opens with a fight amongst the inmates and keeps the action going until the end.

Gridiron Gang also gives excellent insight into the troubled lives of the teenage inmates and how they ended up at the camp. Intense scenes of gang and domestic violence show some of the conflicts they dealt with beforehand.

One actor who particularly stood out in this area was Jade Yorker (“Law & Order”) as Willie Weathers. His menacing portrayal of an angry urban gang member is the most convincing of the supporting cast.

Porter and Weathers form a special bond after Weathers’ cousin, Roger, played by Michael J. Pagan (See No Evil), is killed in a shootout shortly after being released from the detention camp. Porter acts a mentor to Weathers in an attempt to make sure he doesn’t suffer the same fate.

The team’s season – both beforehand and during – is threatened by gang rivalries and personal issues both on and off the field. Porter attempts to get the players to look past these issues and work together. He encourages them to take their anger out on the field as opposed to other people.

The players eventually learn to work as a team and believe in themselves.

A humorous scene in the movie that illustrates the team finally coming together involves all of the players sitting down in protest of Porter’s practice until they are allowed to have a water break.

Even after the inmates lose their first game 38-0, Porter does not give up on the team.

“Mustangs are winners,” he proclaims in a rousing speech.

Like many other sports-based movies, this eventually becomes one of the main themes of the movie and the focal point where the team turns things around and starts winning.

Eventually, the movie becomes a battle between Porter’s rag-tag underdog squad and a powerhouse Catholic high school football team.

Gridiron Gang is not a terrible movie, but it’s also not fabulous. Some of the actors, especially Johnson, tend to overact.

Hollywood has done underdog stories time and time again. Even though this particular movie is based on a true story, it still follows the typical format. But as all underdog films, it is a feel-good story that will allow the audience to leave the theater in an uplifted mood.

Contact ALL correspondent Kristen Kotz at [email protected].


Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Xzibit, Jade Yorker, Kevin Dunn

Rated PG-13 for some startling scenes of violence, mature thematic material and language.

Distributed by Sony Pictures

Stater rating (out of five): ???