Gridiron Gang

Gridiron Gang

***1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

From the outside, it wouldn’t take the most cynical mind to write-off Gridiron Gang. It has the now almost-dreaded ‘based on a true story’ label attached. The two adult coaches are played by a wrestler-come-actor (Hulk Hogan anyone?) and a rapper/TV presenter (xZibit, who’s not too bad). Then of course, there’s the fact that it’s a sports movie so we all know what is going to happen (scrappy underdogs trained to self-improvement and a last-minute win). However, director Phil Joanou surprises us with his fictionalised version of the Emmy-winning ’93 documentary.

Frustrated with the amount of kids who re-offend after being released, juvenile detention centre counsellor Sean Porter (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) decides its time for a new approach. A former player himself, bbe forms a football team in the hopes of teaching the boys a few things and keeping them from going back to their old ways.

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The first half defies convention and is impressively thoughtful, so it is a shame that the latter stages go into cliché overload. Genre staples, such as the tough-but-fair coach and the hard-working training scenes we can deal with. It’s the late corn-surges - like all the significant loved-ones turning up for the ‘big game’ - that just feel a bit too much. Sure, a lot of what you see actually happened - indeed, clips from the documentary are shown during the credits - but all the loose-end tying up plays against the early grit which gave Joanou some much-needed credibility.

Still, it remains a more impressive picture than similar efforts Coach Carter, Invincible (2006) and We Are Marshall. Why is this you ask? Well, quite simply, it’s down to Johnson. Undoubtedly, it seems like a vehicle for the former defensive tackle to cleverly use his football background as a segue into more ‘serious acting’. But when the sentiment ways us down, its Johnson who keeps us watching through sheer presence, while his natural mix of personality, magnetism and conviction (“you have got to be shitting me!”) prove genuinely infectious.

Sports movie-haters should avoid and the more-cliched second half isn’t as good as the thoughtful first, but Dwayne ‘The Actor’ Johnson doesn’t just turn in an impressive performance – he touches down.

Reviewed on: 15 Apr 2010
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A juvenile detention centre counsellor forms a football team to help keep the kids on the straight and narrow.
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Director: Phil Joanou

Writer: Jeff Maguire, Jac Flanders

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Xzibit, L. Scott Caldwell, Leon Rippy, Kevin Dunn, Jade Yorker, David V. Thomas, Setu Taase, Mo, James Earl, Trever O'Brien, Brandon Smith, Jurnee Smollett, Michael J. Pagan, Jamal Mixon

Year: 2006

Runtime: 125 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

Coach Carter
We Are Marshall