The Miracle Match (The Game of Their Lives)


The Miracle Match

Zachery Bryan and Wes Bentley are chagrinned to discover that nobody wants to see a movie about soccer.

(2005) True Life Sports (IFC) Gerard Butler, Wes Bentley, Patrick Stewart, John Rhys-Davies, Jay Rodan, Costas Mandylor, Louis Mandylor, Zachery Bryan, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Gavin Rossdale, Terry Kinney, Craig Hawksley, Nelson Vargas, Richard Jenik. Directed by David Anspaugh

The most popular sport in the world is what we call soccer and every other civilized nation on the globe calls football. For some reason, it just doesn’t resonate with the American psyche and for the most part, the popularity of soccer in this country has resided in the immigrant communities, particularly European and Latin American immigrants who grew up with the game in their blood.

In 1950, soccer barely registered at all to the American public but in St. Louis – particularly in the Italian enclave known as “The Hill” – it was more than a passion, it was a pastime. There were many who felt that the best soccer in the nation was being played there, especially to St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Dent McSkimming (Kinney) who covered the soccer beat for the paper. When the U.S. wangled their way into the World Cup (back then, it didn’t have the long and involved qualifying tournament), most Americans reacted with a “what’s that?” – if they reacted at all. However, McSkimming and some of the St. Louis soccer players were excited when Walter Geisling (Hawksley), one of the great promoters of soccer in this country during that era, came to town to announce try-outs for America’s first World Cup team. 

Because it had been pulled together at the last minute, the team would have little time to develop. Laconic coach Bill Jeffrey (Rhys-Davies) has two completely separate schools of play to choose from; the extremely disciplined style of the East Coast, led by Walter Bahr (Bentley) and the freewheeling style of the St. Louis Italian clubs, whose best player is goalie Frank Borghi (Butler). Somehow, the players had to figure out a way to blend their styles into something new, something stronger if they had a chance of competing. Winning a game? Not possible. They would be going up against national teams that had lived together and played together for months, with the best players in the world playing on them. When they went to Brazil, the team was hoping merely not to embarrass themselves.

As luck would have it, they were scheduled to play against the English team, the clear favorites to win the cup and a team led by the greatest player of the time, Stanley Mortensen (Rossdale). They would have to play the game of their lives to pull off the greatest upset in World Cup history, but somehow, you know what the outcome will be.

This movie was released initially as The Game of Their Lives  but when Disney released this on home video, they changed the title to The Miracle Match, possibly to distance themselves from the disastrous theatrical box office numbers. American soccer continues to be in its adolescent stages, but the American sports movie certainly has a bit more maturity to it. Ultimate underdog movies like this have been done before, in Miracle and Hoosiers (which Anspaugh also directed). One of the problems I have with a sports movie like this is that you have to get invested in the players and their off-field dramas in order to gain that rooting interest. Sadly, that never happens here. These are a bunch of cardboard cutout character types that are so blandly played that you can barely tell one from the other. Butler and Bentley gamely try their best, but they are ultimately submarined by a sub-par script. For example, the man who coaches the team, Bill Jeffrey, comes off as someone who essentially just shows up at the games. He has no insight into the game that we’re privvy to, and never seems to make any decisions regarding the team – the players do that. 

Just as bad, the soccer sequences are uniformly bad. It’s obvious the actors can’t play the game very well, and the Bend It Like Beckham sequences – which are performed by adolescent girls – come off far more realistically. While Anspaugh captures the era nicely, in the end, this is an emotionless movie that does not do well by a group of men who deserve better for one of the crowning achievements in all of sports history.

WHY RENT THIS: Captures a little known moment in U.S. Soccer history. Bentley and Butler do fine jobs in their roles.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lack of character depth and the feeling of “Haven’t we seen this before” pervades the entire film. Soccer sequences are atrocious.

FAMILY VALUES: Some mild language and thematic issues.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: In the scene of Gino and Janet’s wedding reception, the guests are played by members of the St. Louis contingent of the team, their children and grandchildren.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $388,998 on a $20m production budget; the film was a major flop.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Unknown

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My One and Only


My One and Only

Renee Zellweger is courted by yet another unsuitable suitor.

(Freestyle Releasing) Renee Zellweger, Logan Lerman, Kevin Bacon, Chris Noth, Troy Garity, David Koechner, Eric McCormack, Steven Weber, Nick Stahl, Mark Rendall, Robin Weigert. Directed by Richard Loncraine

The road to growing up can often be a treacherous and confusing one, even under the best of circumstances. Sometimes that road can take you to some really unexpected places and unexpected conclusions.

Ann Devereaux (Zellweger) is a willful, beautiful blonde Southern belle who is the trophy wife of bandleader Danny Devereaux (Bacon). He is best known for the hit song “My One and Only” (not the Gershwin song, for those who know the standards well). He is also a philanderer, the kind of guy who simply can’t help himself when it comes to women. When Ann comes home to Danny “entertaining” a young lady – in her bed – it’s the last straw. She cleans out the safety deposit box, buys a baby blue Cadillac Coupe de Ville and hits the road, her sons George (Lerman) and Robbie (Rendall) in tow.

Robbie is a closet homosexual who dreams of Hollywood; George is a bit more grounded and yearns to write. Ann’s only aspiration is to find a rich husband to support her and her boys in the manner in which they’ve been accustomed to.

This doesn’t go very well. Each stop brings another loser, from Wallace McAllister (Weber), a businessman who is nearly broke and who rifles through Ann’s wallet and runs off while she’s in the restroom. Then there’s Col. Harlan Williams (Noth), a rabid anti-Communist military sort who has a streak of violence in him that isn’t compatible with Ann’s gentrified soul. Old flame Charlie (McCormack) makes no bones about it – Ann’s shelf life as a bombshell has expired, and she is competing with younger women for the same scraps. This leads to a misunderstanding that gets Ann arrested.

Nonetheless, she perseveres, even though George outwardly doubts her decision making and making it clear he wants to go back to his dad, who is less than enthusiastic about taking him. Ann then determines to work for a living, but after disastrous attempts at waitressing and sales, Ann finally meets a paint retail tycoon named Bill Massey (Koechner) who looks to be the most promising suitor yet, but even that doesn’t work out as planned.

The movie is loosely based on the life of actor George Hamilton, who is as well known for his tan and his tango these days as he is for his acting career (he’s also the executive producer of the movie). While it doesn’t give you insight into his acting, the movie will at least give you some insight into the man.

The movie has a bit of a split personality, in a good way. The first part of the movie really belongs to Zellweger, and she carries it pretty well. Nobody does plucky, ditzy blonde quite as well as Zellweger (see the Bridget Jones movies, although Lisa Kudrow does nearly as well on “Friends”), and she captivates the screen throughout. Her Ann Devereaux is brave and terminally cheerful, but with a hint of diva in the background. It must have been a fun role to play and you can see Zellweger enjoying herself.

The second half is Lerman’s, and while his story is a bit more complex, he doesn’t quite rise to the challenge but neither does he fail utterly. Instead, he delivers a solid but unspectacular job that doesn’t measure up to the luminescent performance of Zellweger. Each of the suitors have their own charms, although Koechner surprisingly does the most memorable work here as the troubled tycoon. Some of his scenes have a poignancy that elevates the movie quite a bit, as well as the comic timing Koechner is better known for.

Loncraine does a really nice job of evoking the 50s; the setting lives and breathes in his capable hands instead of being something of a distraction as period pieces often are. This is an era that feels lived in, from the posh penthouses of Manhattan to the grubby motels on Route 66. While this is ostensibly a comedy (and there are some funny portions to it), the truth is the dramatic portions work better; you get the feeling Loncraine was going for a bit of a screwball feel (one review likened it to the work of Preston Sturges, which is a dead on observation).

This got a very limited release when it came out and largely flew under the radar. It deserves better; there are some very fine performances and some nice moments, enough to make this a solid recommendation. Check it out on cable or at your local home video emporium; you’ll be glad you did.

WHY RENT THIS: Lerman does a credible job, while Koechner is surprisingly effective. The era is nicely evoked. Zellweger is excellent as the fading bombshell past her prime.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Tries too hard to be a screwball comedy.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of bad language and some sexuality here and there; nothing you should be ashamed of showing to a 13-year-old.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is dedicated to Merv Griffith, who helped Hamilton develop the project and shepherded it through filming, but didn’t live to see it completed.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Lorna’s Silence

The Lucky Ones


The Lucky Ones

Michael Pena, Rachel McAdams and Tim Robbins be all that they can be.

(Roadside Attractions) Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams, Michael Pena, John Heard, Molly Hagan, Mark L. Young, Howard Platt, Arden Myrin, Coburn Goss. Directed by Neil Burger

Many soldiers are called to serve their country in situations where they may be called into harm’s way. Some of them do not return, making the ultimate sacrifice. We think of the ones that return as being the lucky ones.

Three soldiers are on their way home to the United States from a German military hospital, all three having been injured in Iraq (two in combat situations, one in a situation he’d rather not talk about). Colee (McAdams) is on leave after a leg injury has left her with a limp; she hopes to return the guitar of a comrade to his family in Las Vegas. Cheaver (Robbins) is career army who is finally calling it quits; he suffered a back injury but is eager to reunite with his wife and son in St. Louis. TK (Pena) was the victim of a groin injury during a roadside bombing; also on leave, he wants to stop in Las Vegas to see if his equipment is still working before seeing his girlfriend in California.

All three land in New York City but a blackout has grounded every single flight at least until the next day and chances are that the wait in the airport will be even longer as the airlines scramble to get everyone where they need to be. Cheaver determines to rent a car and drive to St. Louis; Colee and TK overhear his plan and offer to go in with him; they figure they can grab a flight in St. Louis and get to Las Vegas from there.

Of course things immediately start to go wrong, from keys being locked in the car to accidents to breakdowns. They run into every conceivable eccentric from here to St. Louis and beyond. They also find that the return home is nothing like what they expected it to be.

The movie came out amid a raft of Iraq War-themed films that all, without exception, tanked at the box office regardless of how good the movies were, who was in them and what the theme was. The American movie-going public sent a very clear message to Hollywood: no films about the war please. That’s a bit of a shame, as some really decent movies, such as In the Valley of Elah, The Hurt Locker and Stop-Loss got left by the wayside.

This modestly-budgeted film also suffered a similar fate, despite the filmmakers and cast’s declaration that this movie most definitely wasn’t about the war, and quite frankly I can see their point. However, in the same way, this isn’t a road movie either and while the war theme hangs heavily over the film (the opening sequence is the only scene set in the war), this ultimately becomes more of a three-way buddy flick.

In fact, it is the bond between the three soldiers that makes the heart of this movie beat strongly, and fortunately for us, Robbins, Pena and McAdams are all fine actors. McAdams in particular does a wonderful job as a perky, terminally optimistic Southern gal whose sweet smile hides a great deal of inner pain. McAdams is a very big reason why the movie’s charm got under my skin.

Pena is a fine actor (see World Trade Center and Crash) who hasn’t really gotten the attention he deserves and consequently doesn’t get the roles he deserves to play either. In that sense, he’s a lot like Adam Beach – someone who gives terrific performances every time out and yet hasn’t gotten the role that will really establish his career. Pena does a great job as usual but I think he’ll have to keep on looking for that elusive career-establishing part.

Robbins is the father figure and emotional center of the movie. He wisely underplays the role, making Cheaver a quiet leader rather than a rah-rah sort. When he breaks down emotionally, it comes without warning and gives the moment greater impact.

While I opine that this isn’t truly a road movie, it certainly is set up to be one, with all the stock characters (the oversexed housewife, redneck truckers, country club blowhard etc.) show up one by one, and the stock situations I mentioned earlier happen right on cue. The filmmakers try to throw a curveball with a tornado, but the effects are a bit weak and you wind up wondering “Why the hell did they do that?” after it’s gone.

Needless to say, this is a flawed movie whose heart is in the right place. The relationship between the three soldiers, as well as their background stories, compels us from the very beginning to get involved in the movie. That’s what casting the right actors for the right parts will do for you. Hopefully, film audiences will get over their distaste for movies set in the Iraqi war milieu soon enough that people will catch this movie on DVD; it’s not Oscar material by a long stretch, but it is deserving of an audience, one that it didn’t get during its theatrical run.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific performances by the three leads.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the situations are terribly cliché.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some bad language and a little bit of sexual content but it is the subject matter that makes this more for mature audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This movie is the third occasion that Tim Robbins has played a member of the military; the other two films were Top Gun and Jacob’s Ladder.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Hurt Locker