This is one home team you won’t be rooting for!
The world isn’t short of sport underdog movies. Cool Runnings, The Bad News Bears, and Rudy are just some of those that spring to mind but there are many others. Most recently, another in the genre cropped up on Netflix, but can this underdog rise above the movie giants on the cinematic playing field? In a word, no!
Home Team is not very good at all, despite a talented cast of young players, so this is one movie that you won’t be rooting for when it comes to award ceremonies (not that it’s likely to be nominated for anything other than a Razzie).
At its heart, Home Team is a family movie but as it comes from the Happy Madison stable, it’s also a comedy, albeit one that isn’t very funny. It’s based on a true story you have probably never heard of unless you’re in the US and/or a fan of the NFL.
In 2012, Sean Payton, head coach of the New Orleans Saints, was suspended from the league after paying his team bonuses for making bad tackles on the field. Their rough play apparently helped them win the Super Bowl in 2010 although I have no idea why Payton’s unscrupulous tactics weren’t held up for scrutiny before this victory.
After losing his place at the NFL, Payton didn’t give up coaching. He moved back to his hometown and unofficially began to help manage his 12-year old son’s school football team. This band of losers soon became a band of winners while in Payton’s care so it’s kind of understandable why this underdog story became a movie.
Sadly, the true story is probably more interesting than this. Happy Madison regular Kevin James stars as Payton, and he is joined by other faces familiar from Adam Sandler’s production studio, including Jackie Sandler as Beth, Payton’s ex-wife, and Rob Schneider as Beth’s hippyish new partner. Taylor Lautner is also in the movie as the coach in charge of the underdog football team, The Warriors. Of the young cast, most of the faces are unfamiliar, although fans of the recent The Mighty Ducks televisions series will recognize one of the kids.
Not only is this a sports underdog movie but it’s a father-son drama too. Payton had become estranged from his son Connor (Tait Blum) due to his divorce and coaching career. But as the two finally get to spend more time together the inevitable happens and the two start to reconnect. In theory, their scenes together should be quite touching but as there is nothing in the script to really make us care for either of them, you are unlikely to shed a tear when they finally bond.
It’s also hard to care about what happens on the field. The Warriors are the worst team in the Junior League but they aren’t populated by the usual group of misfits that you will often find in a movie of this sort. Instead, they are just below-average players with very few character traits to make us warm to them. The young actors are fairly talented but as most of them are given very little to work with, they don’t make much of an impression.
The same applies to the older members of the cast. I’m not a huge fan of James or Schneider but they can be funny with the right script. Sadly, there is nothing in this movie to raise a chuckle as the ‘jokes’ fall flatter than an untalented player trying to score a touchdown.
Of course, it’s a surprise that this is a comedy at all as the true story behind it could just have easily been a moving emotional drama (despite Payton’s wrongdoing). With actors as capable as Dennis Quaid or John Goodman in the lead, this could have been a very different movie. Instead, we have another laugh-free comedy from Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions that is on a par with the rest of the studio’s output, such as The Ridiculous 6, Jack and Jill, and Grown Ups.
Are there any redeeming factors? It’s hard to think of many, although Taylor Lautner does what he can with his underwritten role. If ever there was an underdog it’s him, as he is a better actor than many give him credit for. It’s just that the scripts he has been handed have mostly been terrible. He has had very few opportunities in Hollywood to really shine but the BBC comedy Cuckoo proved to the world (or to me at least) that he was actually a capable performer.
If you have seen any underdog movie over the last few years you will know exactly where this one is heading. The Warriors rise up the leagues thanks to Payton’s expertise and the ragtag team become more confident in themselves as a result. Unfortunately, the gross-out humour and tired sporting clichés undermine what could have been an inspirational movie, so what we’re left with is a half-baked comedy that drops the ball on more than one occasion.
Verdict - 4/10