It Takes A Lot More To Make ‘Champions’ A Good movie

A movie like Champions tries so gosh-darn hard that the script basically writes itself. It’s actually been written and rewritten time and time again. The movie is based on the Spanish movie Campeones, but it also has remnants of the 1991 TV movie One Special Victory featuring John Larroquette, even though at times it comes across like it should’ve been made 30 years ago.

Bobby Farrely directs his first feature movie solo bringing back Woody Harrelson from Kingpin to play Marcus Marakovich, who at one time was a rising basketball coach, but is stuck in Des Moines, Iowa assistant coaching a J-League team. Since some of Kingpin was set in Iowa, why break from traditon? Marcus gets into an argument with the head coach Phil Perreti (Ernie Hudson) and shoves him and the scuffle is caught on tape.

Marcus gets fired and then goes to get drunk, later driving home where he crashes into the back of a police car. Macus’ drinking is something the movie throws away when it’s no longer convenient to the plot. Because he has experience in coaching basketball, the judge decides to sentence him to 90 days community service coaching a community basketball team called The Friends. They’re composed of a group of intellectually disabled athletes who each have their own quirks which is just tell them apart.

And that’s the problem, the focus of the movie is never on the Friends, but on Marcus. From this point, everything that happens next in the movie is predictable. Marcus is leery of teaching the team. There’s difficulty at first. But eventually, they make a connection. And then, they start doing better each game leading to the Big Game. Along the way, Marcus discovers that he’s had such a great experience coaching the team that the 90-day period breezes by. Gee, how about that?

Cheech Marin pops up as Julio, the manager of the rec center, who doesn’t really have much to do except for us to say “Hey, it’s Cheech!” There’s a subplot, because there always is, involving Alex (Kaitlin Olson), who starts out as a Tinder hook-up but becomes Marcus’ love interest when he discovers she’s the sister of one of the players, Johnny (Kevin Iannucci). All of the Friends are played by people with actual intellectual disabilities including Joshua Felder who plays Darius, the best player, who is immediately hostile to Marcus but once we learn why, they both get along.

I commend Farrelly for casting all the Friends with intellectual disabilities but the problem is you he thinks it should be more meaningful. Ever since There’s Something About Mary, the Farrelly Brothers have cast people who have physical disabilities and intellectual disabilities. They both produced the movie The Ringer in which Johnny Knoxville is forced to pretend he has intellectual disabilities at the Special Olympics. They work with Best Buddies, a mentoring program.

That being said, Farrelly and screenwriter Mark Rizzo portray Marcus’ initial frustration with having to coach a team for community service rather than a team full of people with disabilities. But at a painfully bloated two hours with credits, this could’ve easily been an hour and a half long and kept the gist of the story. And you should know what’s going to happen well before it does happen in the movie. Eventually, Marcus gets a job offer with the NBA but must decide whether to stay in Des Moines but move on. And then, we know they’re going to face a hurdle getting to the big game, but even the big game itself is such a letdown in how little of it fills the final act. I really wish the athletes had better screen time.

This White Savior Self-Centered Narcissist Who Discovers How To Make A Difference For Other People trope has been made before and made better. You might find yourself wondering what the main focus is. Harrelson seems to phone in his performance while Olson is the movie’s high point. But the whole love interest plot isn’t needed here.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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