AMERICAN UNDERDOG is directed by The Erwin Brothers (I CAN ONLY IMAGINE, I STILL BELIEVE). The film stars Zachary Levi, Dennis Quaid, Bruce McGill, and Anna Paquin.
Kurt Warner takes a job stocking shelves in a grocery store to help support himself and his single mother girlfriend when he isn’t drafted to the NFL following his college football days. With his family desperate for money, he takes a job playing in an arena league to make ends meet, only to eventually garner the attention of an NFL coach who believes in him despite his advanced age and coming up short in the past.
Inspirational true-story sports biopics are nothing new; it seems like we get a ton of them each year. While AMERICAN UNDERDOG is at times overly sentimental and a tearjerker, it succeeds largely thanks to the strength of its lead actors and their chemistry. While the film isn’t likely to land on any “Best of the Year” lists, I won’t deny that the movie entertained me despite its shortcomings.
Where AMERICAN UNDERDOG shines brightest is its stars. Zachary Levi (SHAZAM!, THOR: THE DARK WORLD) is believable as Kurt Warner, who goes from a job stocking grocery store shelves to being named a Super Bowl MVP despite being older than the average NFL rookie. Rounding out the cast are solid supporting performances from Bruce McGill and Dennis Quaid as coaches, plus Anna Paquin (X-MEN, ALMOST FAMOUS) as the single mother who becomes the object of Warner’s affections.
Chemistry between the actors and believable performances and drama are what help to keep AMERICAN UNDERDOG a solid film. We can truly as an audience believe the plight that these characters suffer through as the eternally optimistic Warner pursues his football dreams, juggling a work life with his single mother girlfriend and later wife who’s been scarred by experiences with a past husband and raising two children. There were certainly strong audience reactions in the screening I attended, from the tragic moments to the triumphant ones. I can’t speak for how historically accurate AMERICAN UNDERDOG is, but the chemistry of everyone involved comes together nicely.
The direction from The Erwin Brothers, largely known for directing faith-based films, keeps the movie well-paced, telling this story in just under two hours. Pacing is everything when making a film, and I’m pleased to say AMERICAN UNDERDOG is rarely boring, with one of its greatest strengths being that you don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy it, though I do think they’ll probably get the most out of the experience. While there are certainly faith-based elements in AMERICAN UNDERDOG, they generally take a backseat to football and relationship drama, for better or worse.
The film falters in a few area, though fortunately there aren’t any serious deal breakers here. Some characters and relationships should’ve been explored more; Warner’s mother, who should be a major character, is barely in the movie at all, which takes something away from the few scenes they share. Likewise, at times the movie is overly sentimental and gets a little too close to tearjerker territory (and it was certainly working its magic there on members of the audience I saw this film with). The film mostly plays it straight and doesn’t really throw anything unexpected at the audience, though it is naturally somewhat confined by having to adhere to real-life events on which it’s based.
AMERICAN UNDERDOG doesn’t bring anything new to the inspirational sports biopic genre, but it’s solid enough to entertain for its duration of just under two hours thanks to its cast, direction, and pacing. I give the movie a moderate recommendation.