American Underdog Synopsis: The story of NFL MVP and Hall of Fame quarterback, Kurt Warner, who went from stocking shelves at a supermarket to becoming an American Football star.
From bagging groceries to winning the Super Bowl, Hall of Fame Quarterback Kurt Warner’s improbable journey toward superstardom radiates with instant Hollywood appeal. In the hands of faith-based directors Jon and Andrew Erwin, Warner’s fairy tale story gets a decidedly earnest treatment in American Underdog.
I can sense many already groaning at the thought of two maudlin subgenres – crowdpleasing sports films and preachy faith-based features – congealing into one project. Like the resilient quarterback himself, American Underdog overcomes its familiar framework in a triumphant feel-good feature.
Set between Warner’s college years and his NFL debut, Underdog could have easily opted for a highlight reel of the quarterback’s plethora of achievements. Instead, the Erwins, alongside Friday Night Lights screenwriter David Aaron Cohen, center their sights on the arduous battles the quarterback endured in pursuit of his dreams.
This choice creates a narrative that unfolds with introspection and refreshing patience. Along with filming football scenes with an effective stylistic pop, the Erwins skillfully entrenches audiences in the day-to-day struggles facing Kurt and his single-mother girlfriend, Brenda, displaying genuine hardships without intensifying them with overly cinematic gimmicks. Without familiar elements – like overproduced score choices and melodramatic speeches – the directors retain a naturalistic sensibility accompanied by the warm flourishes of time-honored sports movies.
The slow-burn approach allows Underdog to earn in its feel-good pursuits even as audiences can predict the incoming rah-rah cheers. I also give Cohen credit for incorporating religious connotations with genuine success. Removing the preachiness of other tiresome religious efforts in favor of quieter, character-driven beats helps create a narrative that intimately toils with the characters’ self-doubt amidst impossible odds. Whether you’re faithful or not, American Underdog keenly analyzes how tenants of family, belief, and perseverance inspired the Warners in every step of their journey.
Underdog’s well-matched stars also help to elevate the material. Zachary Levi possesses the smolder and charisma of an NFL star, but it’s the simmering conviction and dramatic gravity he imbues into Warner’s persona that truly stands out. Thankfully, the film pairs the quarterback’s journey on equal footing with his girlfriend and eventual wife, Brenda. Anna Paquin encapsulates the joys and frustrations of her caretaker role while offering some of the film’s most emotionally vulnerable moments.
Does the film completely avoid oversentimental cliches? Certainly not (the personal stakes dissipate in the final third as Warner reaches the NFL). Still, American Underdog delivers a true story worthy of its Hall of Fame subject.
American Underdog opens in theaters on Christmas Day.
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