Let's hear it for sports movies! The most avid sports fan occasionally can be bored by lackluster games, but the casual spectator also can appreciate what the big screen can do for an athletic contest, even one played by actors rather than athletes: the closer-than-life closeups, the dramatic use of slo-mo (preferably highlighted by driving rain), the tension-filled score, the big game that invariably gets decided in the last possible few seconds, and best of all, the big whomp-'em sounds of bones breaking in digital stereo.
Director Oliver Stone is just the man for this type of film. In recent years he seems to be competing with Michael Bay to set the world record for most cuts per minute, and he proved himself fairly hip when he hired Trent Reznor to produce the soundtrack for Natural Born Killers. And while a loud soundtrack, big sweeping shots, quick cuts, and a complete lack of subtlety worked to Stone's detriment when he was trying to force-feed us political ideology in the early Nineties, the style is a perfect fit for Any Given Sunday, a film about all the things that cause Tim Allen to grunt like a pig: violence, football, drinking, and sex.
Everything any red-blooded American male could hope for is in place. Constant football-player-as-gladiator metaphors, games shown in slow motion, games played in driving rain, head coach Al Pacino yelling at the top of his lungs, James Woods (as the team's doctor) and Cameron Diaz (as the owner) yelling back, players scoring touchdowns by leaping into the air and executing a perfect somersault over their opponents' heads, and so forth. It's too bad movie theaters in this country don't sell beer, the one element missing to create macho nirvana. Women may not have such a great time; not only is football male-skewed to begin with, but this film even suggests that women ruin the purity of the game. Female lead Diaz is a hard-ass team owner who's in it for the money. The players' girlfriends and wives either resent their men's success or aren't satisfied by it. And the only woman who really seems to understand is an expensive call girl (Elizabeth Berkley, baring all again as she did in Showgirls), who's paid $1000 per night to please.
Any Given Sunday
Playing at selected theaters.
As for the story, well, let's face it, no one goes to a sports movie looking for originality. They go either to see a veteran sports hero coming back for one last game, or an up-and-coming underdog beating the odds and achieving a major victory. In either case there's usually a lot of personal baggage to get past, a major financial stake, and a match or game that inevitably will be decided at the last possible moment. Any Given Sunday gives us both: Dennis Quaid as the John Elway-like star quarterback whose injuries are about to end his career, and Jamie Foxx as the young hotshot who's ready to take his place but lets his own ego get in the way of team spirit. Holding the team together as best he can is coach Tony D'Amato (Pacino), a traditionalist becoming increasingly disillusioned with the commercialization of his favorite game.
All the marks are hit just as they should be. Will Quaid know when to pack it in for the good of the team? Will Foxx overcome his own ego and work with his teammates? Will Pacino let his personal dislike of Foxx cloud his judgment? Will financial concerns overpower personal ones? Will the big game be decided in the final ten seconds? We may have seen endless variations of these elements before, but Stone handles them effortlessly, pumping up the adrenaline with music from the likes of Moby and Robbie Robertson, sprinkled with snippets of Indian chanting and even an excerpt from the Run Lola Run soundtrack.
Jamie Foxx, best known for In Living Color and his own eponymous subpar sitcom, gives a star-making performance as Willie "Steamin'" Beamen, who negotiates the transition from an intimidated rookie who vomits on the field before a major play (shades of Denver Bronco-turned-WWF wrestler Darren "Puke" Drozdov) to cocky prima donna. Fans of his earlier work will appreciate the goofy rap video (lyrics by Foxx) that Beamen shoots at the height of his popularity, and a dead-on impersonation of Pacino. There's no doubt he's a better choice than Puff Daddy, who reportedly left the production when he turned out to be a mediocre football player. It's unfortunate that Stone saw fit to undercut Foxx's key dramatic scene with Pacino by interspersing images of lightning bolts and scenes from Ben Hur throughout (even more unfortunate considering that Charlton Heston shows up later in the film in a bureaucratic role), but at least he let the other remaining key dramatic scenes alone: an argument between Quaid and screen wife Lauren Holly, for instance, and a gleefully loud three-way shouting match between Pacino, Woods, and Matthew Modine.
The cast is so loaded with stars that one scarcely can mention them all, but special credit should go to Ann-Margret as Diaz's mother; Aaron Eckhart as a numbers-cruncher; LL Cool J as the star running back; John C. McGinley as a geeky sportswriter who straight-facedly says to Foxx, "Your smack is so fresh! Gimme a pound, dog!"; real-life former players Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor; and Stone himself as a sportscaster (he certainly looks the part).
At one point, when Quaid's injured quarterback is writhing in pain, he says of his painkiller dosage: "I'm a football player; they've got to pump up the volume here!" We would expect nothing less from Oliver Stone, and he has done so gloriously. There's no doubt that hard-core fans will find some of the action less than realistic, but what the actors don't have in experience is more than made up for by the sheer bombast of the production. It's hard to beat the NFL for over-the-top spectacle, but trust Hollywood to rise to the challenge.
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