>The Gridiron Gang – A Review
A tale of redemption based on the real life exploits of an American football team formed in a juvenile detention centre. Stars The Rock and Xzibit of ‘Pimp My Ride’ fame
Gridiron Gang plays out as a standard Hollywood redemption-through-sport movie, but it’s based on some hard realities. The killer statistic presented at the beginning of the film is that 75% of the 120,000 kids in juvenile detention centres in the USA either go on to commit more crimes and end up back in prison, or die on the streets.
It was this tragic rate of recidivism that led a former American football player Sean Porter to start coaching the young inmates in his sport in the early 1990s in the hope that it would instil in them some sense of purpose and self-belief. The surprisingly successful team became the subject of a documentary – The Gridiron Gang – and this in turn inspired this film.
It’s a heart-warming story and a big budget Hollywood film like lays it on thick. It’s sentimental, unsubtle and gung-ho from the word go. It clatters through the issues and problems of the team members and races to an unsurprising conclusion. But these are no more than standard genre limitations. And, for what it is, Gridiron Gang is a very well made film.
The Rock has got screen presence as big as his over-developed biceps and his performance is never less than solid. Xzibit brings the same wry humour and charisma that helped make the exuberantly daft ‘Pimp My Ride’ such a success. The supporting cast of ne’er do wells turned football heroes are universally strong bringing the crucial element of humanity to their otherwise clichéd roles – the fat one who can’t do press ups, the great athlete who has to overcome serious issues to thrive, his sworn enemy turned friend, etc.
Much of the dialogue particularly the speeches The Rock growls out – appears to have been taken from the big book of Hollywood motivational platitudes. It’s difficult to imagine anyone outside a blockbuster chewing out lines like: “On the Gridiron, we do it my way, not your way. Your way got you here. Whatever gang you claim, whatever hood you’re from, this is your hood now.” However, even this ripe speechifying turns out to be a virtue. In a fun bit of art imitating life imitating art, excerpts from the documentary shown over the end credits demonstrate that many of the team talks are directly lifted from the real Sean Porter’s speeches; coincidentally making the feel-good nature of the film even more effective by reminding us that there is someone out there who really did get results.