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Friday Night Blights

Tracy Bennett/TriStar Pictures

When the Game Stands Tall (2014)

“When the Game Stands Tall” centers on the real-life Spartans football team of De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., under its legendary former coach Bob Ladouceur, here played by Jim Caviezel. It isn’t about how the team achieved its storied 151-game winning streak, however; but rather how it ultimately fumbled that winning streak and then recovered.

The major events that define this particular narrative are the 2004 murder of the Spartans’ star linebacker Terrance Kelly (Stephan James), Mr. Ladouceur’s 2003 heart attack and the team’s 2004 loss to Washington’s Bellevue High School that ended its record win streak — in that particular order here. The shuffle in chronology is surely for dramatic effect.

In the aftermath of these key events, the film repeatedly drives home the message that football isn’t everything. Apparently Mr. Ladouceur grew so wary of all the cocky players and officious football parents who vicariously lived through their sons that he seriously entertained an offer from Stanford University. In fact, the borderline abusive parent played by Clancy Brown emerges as a bigger antagonist than any of the rival teams.

The moral that football isn’t everything seems inherently irreconcilable with a football movie, though. The film’s climactic scene obviously involves a rematch with Bellevue that just as obviously ends in the most predictable way.

Save from Laura Dern as Bev Ladouceur, Michael Chiklis as assistant coach Terry Eidson and the aforementioned Mr. Brown, the cast is uniformly bland. In the role of the coach/religious studies teacher in a Catholic school, Mr. Caviezel seems to be cast solely for being a devout Catholic since here he makes no attempt to shake his “Person of Interest” character. He has no on-screen chemistry with others in the cast, and it’s hard to believe he could inspire anyone to victory.


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