I vividly remember January 30, 2000, Superbowl XXXIV (34). To completely date myself, I was 9 years old at a family friends house watching the game and remember holding my breath for the last play known as “One Yard Short” and “The Tackle”. I couldn’t believe how heart-pounding this game was and it was around that time that I started getting more into football, I would already be a fan of sports, mostly baseball and hockey but this game is when I started to pay attention to football. Of course, living in New York, my team that I would root for and become a fan of would be the New York Giants, but it was Kurt Warner would open my eyes to the sport.
American Underdog instantly became a film I would have an interest in, not only is it centered around one of my favorite sports, but it tells an inspirational story of an ambitious journey of someone that wouldn’t take no for an answer – Kurt Warner (Zachary Levi). Spoiler alert -Warner would go on to win the Superbowl depicted in the film as well as make the hall of fame and be considered one of the greatest Quarterbacks of all time.
The journey follows Warner from a young boy (played by Beau Heart) dreaming of being like Joe Montana to playing in college in Iowa to spending his time as a grocer to playing in the Arena Football league and then the NFL.
A good sports film will inspire its viewers to root for the main character, an underdog, it’s in the title – Kurt’s story in undoubtedly inspirational that deserves to be told – the downfall is that like any biopic the film is largely predictable. A quick google search and the story is there for anyone to read about and watch on YouTube. But watching a dramatic retelling of the beginning of a hall of fame career holds more weight.
Kurt is a very likable person, its considerate, caring, intelligent and determined. All these personality traits come into play when Kurt meets Brenda (Anna Paquin) and her two kids. Even when Brenda tells Kurt that it won’t work between them, he proves that they deserve each other – becoming a stepfather to her children. Through thick and thin, good times and bad, Kurt and Brenda make it work, Kurt never gives up trying to give her the best life possible. Levi and Paquin have a charming chemistry together, creating a believable relationship that lasts through the toughest of times.
Leading the way as Kurt is Zachary Levi who possess all the charisma in the world to standout against a clichéd and generic templated sports movie. Levi carries the film on his broad shoulders (possibly getting in his Shazam! shape) never slipping up in his determination for following his dream of playing football in the NFL. American Underdog amidst how generic it may be is held together and presented in a nicely wrapped bow by directors Andrew and Jon Erwin. What Levi does the best is ground Kurt Warner making us as a viewer connect with a larger-than-life sports figure who has been to 3 total Superbowl’s.
The action sequences of playing the game aren’t the films strength but Jon and Andrew do a good job of framing the games that are played. All of the emotion that goes into the game, the atmosphere and environment from the stands to between the hashes has an authentic feeling to it.
Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of the sport itself but Jon and Andrew’s story got me. I was able to root for Kurt when he gets cut from the Packers, must put his dream on hold to support his family and then prove Mike Martz (Chance Kelly) wrong by being NFL ready. Kurt’s Journey to the St. Louis Rams (They relocated to Los Angeles recently) is full of adversity mostly from his coach’s but Kurt, Brenda, and head coach Dick Vermeil (Dennis Quaid) all believe in him. The only one Kurt must win over is Mike Martz, Rams offensive coordinator who Kurt wins over eventually – he already wins teammates Marshall Faulk (OJ Keith Simpson) and Isaac Bruce (Simeon Castille) over. As a fan, reliving this team, even in a dramatic re-telling is awe-inspiring. Isaac Bruce and Marshall Faulk both had hall of fame careers – to see their presence on screen solidifies what was known as the greatest show on turf.
Maybe I’m biased because of my fandom but American Underdog reached me in every aspect. I get its generic and cliché and predictable but the job by Jon and Andrew Erwin got me. I ate up every moment of the film even with the religious undertones. Despite all those shortcomings, American Underdog will be sure to inspire those who may not like the sport at all and affirm those who already know of Warner as an all-time great player. Zachary Levi is full of charisma who leads the charge in a grounded version of the hall of fame quarterback who had one of the biggest careers in the NFL.
Written By: Jon Erwin, Jon Gunn & David Aaron Cohen
Directed By: Andrew and Jon Erwin
Music By: Jon Debney
Cinematography: Kristopher Kimlin
Starring: Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin, Dennis Quaid, Chance Kelly, Cindy Hogan
Release Date: December 25, 2021
Running Time: 1 Hour 52 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%
My Score: 3 out of 5