Entertainment Entertainment Movies

'When the Game Stands Tall' is imperfect but resilient

**1/2 (out of four)

Like its title, the real life-inspired “When the Game Stands Tall” is earnest and a bit corny. If not for 2011’s great, Oscar-winning documentary “Undefeated,” which also featured a life-changing football coach, that probably would have been the title of this sports drama. I mean, “When the Game Stands Tall”? As opposed to “When the Game Lies Down in the Fetal Position”?

The football team at Northern California’s De La Salle High School won 151 consecutive games from 1992-2004. That’s unheard of, and a major accomplishment. On the one hand, it feels strange that “When the Game Stands Tall” ignores any roadblocks during that historic run. Other than the firm ideals of soft-spoken coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel, boring) and the program attracting talented players, it’s hard to grasp how all those wins—not just wins; demolitions—were accumulated.

Still, it would have been misguided to make the movie all about the record, since Ladouceur and his assistant coach Terry Eidson (Michael Chiklis) repeatedly emphasize that it’s only a game and streaks don’t matter to them. Much of the movie observes the players attempting to pick up the pieces after the amazing run ends. That includes Chris (Alexander Ludwig of “Lone Survivor”), whose stereotypically intense dad really wants him to break the state scoring record, and Danny (Matthew Daddario), the coach’s son who complains that he gets a coach when he needs a father and vice-versa. (Commence eye-rolling.)

Director Thomas Carter’s only other big-screen features this century are 2005’s “Coach Carter” (not about himself) and 2001’s “Save the Last Dance.” The guy likes inspiration and doesn’t do subtlety. The rousing “When the Game Stands Tall” bounces between something that works and something that doesn’t—a promising player being shot and killed just before heading to play at the University of Oregon seems like a “Boyz N the Hood” rip-off, except it really happened. Lines like “My husband’s turning your son into a man” are gag-worthy, but Laura Dern (as Ladouceur’s wife) is always compelling.

And the message is clear: Bonds come through emotion, not just adrenaline. Character and effort count for a lot. I like where “When the Game Stands Tall” goes, though I don’t like all of how it gets there. Clear eyes, full hearts, narrow victory.

Watch Matt review the week's big new movies Fridays at noon on NBC.



Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.


Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • 1 killed, 2 wounded in South Side shootings
    1 killed, 2 wounded in South Side shootings

    One man was killed, and two others were wounded in shootings Tuesday afternoon and evening in the city's Park Manor, Bronzeville and Morgan Park neighborhoods.

  • City lists 'problem landlords' on website
    City lists 'problem landlords' on website

    Chicago's Building Department published its first "problem landlords" list on its website Monday night in an attempt to crack down and publicly shame apartment building owners into providing tenants with basic services such as heat, hot water and working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

  • Chicago brothers who infiltrated cartel given 14 years in prison
    Chicago brothers who infiltrated cartel given 14 years in prison

    After more than six years in protective custody, the twin brothers from Chicago's West Side didn't look the part of hard-core drug traffickers when they walked into a public courtroom Tuesday for the first time since flipping on the notoriously violent Sinaloa cartel.

  • Emanuel, mayoral challengers face off for first time
    Emanuel, mayoral challengers face off for first time

    The first face-to-face meeting of the Chicago mayor’s race featured Rahm Emanuel offering a measured defense of his first term against a barrage of attacks from challengers who assailed his record on neighborhood development and crime and even his temperament.

  • 'Ghostbusters' reboot scares up cast: Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, Jones
    'Ghostbusters' reboot scares up cast: Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, Jones

    Director Paul Feig's "Ghostbusters" reboot has found its leading ladies. Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon are in talks to star in the Sony comedy about a quartet of paranormal exterminators, The Times has confirmed.

  • CTA rider robbed at Taser-point: police
    CTA rider robbed at Taser-point: police

    A 23-year-old CTA rider was threatened with a Taser and robbed of her cellphone Friday as she transferred from the Red Line to the Green Line at the Roosevelt "L" station, police said Tuesday.