Squeezing Water From The Rock

Squeezing Water From The Rock

By Matthew Razak

What? No, I'm not crying. OK, maybe one tear. Could you pass me that tissue?

In my defense, The Rock was crying too. You try not to cry when The Rock is crying.

Look at those poor kids overcoming adversity in "Gridiron Gang." There's enough schmaltz on the screen to make even the roughest of rough men well up with tears.

Seriously, after The Rock sat down with one of his troublesome football players for the fifth emotional scene of the film, I had gone beyond the tear phase and was about to vomit from the sentimentality of it all. Luckily, after each of these scenes, the movie jumped to some of the hardest-hitting football on screen in years. Kudos to the sound effect guys for those tackles — I thought every hit was going to be the next heart-breaking injury that would truly propel the team to an emotional victory.

"Gridiron Gang" is the same based-on-a-true-story, underdog, redemptive, inspiring, teen sports movie you see all the time. Except this one has Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as head coach Sean Porter. The Rock just seems to capture the screen no matter what he is doing.

What really works in the movie is what really works in other good sports movies: overcoming adversity to fight on to the championships. What makes "Gridiron Gang" just a bit different is that most of the film is spent on the team losing, and how this affects kids who really have nothing else. The first game, in which the diverse team gets trounced by an all-white state championship squad, is one of the most heartrending conclusions to a game since Rudy sat on a sideline. Of course, afterwards, everyone learns some life lessons; even Coach Porter, who starts to forgive his father for some unseen sins.

The downside is that "Gang" doesn't challenge any of the norms, perpetuating a lot of stereotypes and roles. For a movie about moving away from the street life these young men think they are forced into, it is odd it doesn't move farther away from the stereotypical black roles that Hollywood seems to force actors into: angry, violent or inherently bad.

"Gridiron Gang" offers more of the same, but with a few key play changes that at least get the film into field goal range. It's not a touchdown, but it wins the game.