Starring Jim Caviezel, Alexander Ludwig, Michael Chiklis; directed by Thomas Carter; 115 minutes; PG for thematic material, a scene of violence and brief smoking
"When the Game Stands Tall" is a solid if unsurprising and uninspiring melodrama built around high school football.
It's the latest of that peculiar sub-genre of sports films, in which filmmakers bend over backwards to make a perennial powerhouse football factory look like an underdog. These stories claim to be about "more than a game," even as they build toward their by-the-book "Big Game" finale.
"When the Game" varies the formula by being faith-based, about a pious coach (Jim Caviezel) who talks about building character as much as he worries about blocking schemes. Coach Bob Ladouceur lectures his De La Salle Spartans about "love," setting high standards, making "a perfect effort, from the snap to the whistle" on each play..
Something worked, because this Concord, Calif., school won 151 games in a row at one point. "When the Game Stands Tall" is about the tests they face when that streak is broken.
The melodramatic stuff in this "true story" involves players dedicating games to this dying granddad or that sickly mother, the seniors who have to decide whether to stick together and attend the same college, or find their own way out of Richmond, Calif.
Meanwhile, Coach, who is quietly obsessed with "The Streak," has a heart attack.
No matter how many times he says, "It's just a high school football game," we don't believe him.
Cloaked in Christianity, Caviezel been surrounded by success ("The Passion of the Christ"), but he rarely has a role that requires him to smile and his lines all have a stern authority about them. He's "the hoarse whisperer." That isn't necessarily a wrong-headed way to play this coach, just a boring one.
And for all the naked manipulation of the music and the story that builds toward an only slightly unexpected climax, this film never delivers that lump in the throat that a "Rudy" or "We Are Marshall" or "Friday Night Lights" managed.
Roger Moore, McClatchy Newspapers