Kurt Warner gets an innocent biopic – BoilingNews

Anna Paquin and Zachary Levi in ​​American Underdog

Anna Paquin and Zachary Levi in American Underdog
Photo: Lionsgate

Church and God only enter the sports biopic after at least half an hour American Underdog, but the signs that this is a “faith-based entertainment” are there from the start. There’s the down-home setting, for instance, as well as the oddly wholesome aura that surrounds the Iowa honky tonk where future NFL star Kurt Warner (Zachary Levi) meets ex-Marine/single mom Brenda (Anna Paquin) at the beginning of the film. As it turns out, American Underdog was directed by brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin, who have made careers with PG-rated dramas that combine chaste romance and generic upliftment for church-going audiences. But compared to the brothers’ debut, the “abortion survivor” revenge fantasy is october baby, American Underdog is downright tasty.

There’s nothing overtly political about this film’s core message of loyalty and perseverance—translated here as “stay in the pocket,” for those who only accept life lessons in the form of football metaphors. That helps quite a bit. And stars Paquin and Levi aren’t known for their obnoxious right-wing shitposts, unlike some other Christian actors we might mention. In public, Paquin is mostly silent about her personal views, except as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. And though Levi talks openly about his faith in God, he also criticizes Donald Trump for using the Bible as a ‘support’.

They’re also both extremely good for either of these films, bringing tender affection and candid confidence into the rough early years of their characters’ relationship. When the movie begins, Kurt is a college soccer player struggling to make a name for himself in the sport. Over the course of 112 minutes, he ruins his chance with the pros, working as a stockboy at a grocery store, and crawling his way to the top in the disgraceful realm of arena football before the NFL finally makes a comeback. Along the way, groupies in the locker rooms and unpaid heating bills will put Kurt and Brenda’s relationship to the test, though again this movie is a little too well thought out for sexual infidelity to be a credible threat.

Instead, we have dogged, seemingly reckless determination in chasing a dream. American Underdog views dreams as almost sacred things, and while an opening monologue admits that Kurt’s story is improbable, the implication still implies that you, the audience member, can do it too if you work (and believe) hard enough. Without the prayer portion, which is less prominent here than in other recent faith-based movies, that’s not an uncommon message from Hollywood. And if you can swallow your cynicism long enough to watch any number of children’s movies with the “believe in yourself and you can do anything” theme, then you can probably tolerate it. American Underdog also.

That said, it can be hard to suppress a sniff during, say, the scene where Kurt puts Wheaties on the shelf and imagines his own face on the box. It’s corny stuff, and Levi has a grinning trait to him that sometimes reads like he can’t believe he’s starring in this nonsense. However, he is believable as a tight, all-American boy, and he and Paquin work as an on-screen couple. In fact, some of their chatter is pretty cute. The supporting cast also has its charms, most notably Ser’Darius Blain in the pleasing turn as Mike Hudnutt, Kurt’s best friend and college roommate at University Of Northern Iowa.

Another pleasing aspect of this harmless film is the small-town setting in the mid-’90s, evoked by Tim McGraw jukebox hits and hunter green wallpaper in botanical patterns. Paquin’s wigs will be a nostalgic journey for anyone who grew up in the Midwest of the 90s, and the passage of time is marked by the evolution of her outfits from acid-washed denim to the polyester pantsuits that hang on the racks of every Express in every shopping mall in America circa 1998. None of this is meant to be ironic or kitschy, à la The eyes of Tammy Faye. It just goes without saying that this milieu is one that movie audiences will find reassuring.

It’s only in the last half that American Underdog really gets into the football game, bringing in Chance Kelly and Dennis Quaid as St. Louis Rams coaches Mike Martz and Dick Vermiel. Themes of fate and faith are emphasized here, culminating in Warner’s first appearance at the Super Bowl in January 2000. We won’t spoil the outcome of that game, because it’s the film’s climax (and easy to Google, if you just need to know). But come on. Do you really think, given the kind of movie this is, that Kurt is going to fumble?


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