To all those who have stayed up at night watching inspirational documentaries, you may have heard of “Gridiron Gang.” This made-for-TV film follows a dedicated football coach as he attempts to instill self-efficacy in a group of inmates at a juvenile detention center by creating a team. The story was so gripping it won an Emmy in 1993.
Now, years later, Columbia Pictures has deemed the story worthy enough to be adapted to the big screen. Picking up somewhere in between “The Longest Yard” and “Remember the Titans,” “Gridiron Gang” is a clich?d yet inspirational story that is sure to pluck every last one of your heartstrings despite how hard you resist.
The film stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Sean Porter, a hard-ass officer with a heart of gold at a correctional camp for juvenile delinquents. With a 75 percent recidivism rate for these young offenders, Porter attempts to curb their more homicidal tendencies by teaching them how to toss the pigskin. It’s a win-win situation - not only does he teach these kids teamwork, respect for authority and all that good stuff, but Porter can relive his dashed hopes and dreams of football glory through assembling this ragtag team of thieves and serial killers and turning them into champions.
“Gridiron Gang” is a veritable cornucopia of clich?s with a dialogue that sounds as if someone had written down the morphine-induced ramblings of Vince Lombardi on his deathbed. As shown through various workout montages, these kids are transformed from a group of losers into winners who, shockingly enough, pull through in the last few seconds of the big game to beat their white suburban rivals, thanks to the pearls of wisdom passed onto them from Xzibit and The Rock.
In an unlikely twist, these kids end up teaching Coach Porter a thing or two as he finally resolves his pent-up daddy issues by acting as a father figure for the convict Willie Weathers.
“Gridiron Gang” also showcases a feeble attempt for The Rock’s transition into acting. Clearly trying to add to his canon, this film shows that Johnson is not just “The Scorpion King” - he can also display emotions such as sadness while lamenting over the slow deterioration of his mother’s health due to some unnamed illness.
All in all, the movie is confused. It markets itself as a lighthearted football flick featuring kids who made some bad decisions in need of a second chance. In reality, the kids on this team are legitimate murderers who, as we see by the where-are-they-now credits, later return to their respective gangs or are shot down in a hail of gunfire. Not only does this negate the whole theme of the film - that football eliminates gang violence - but it’s simply unnecessary. Perhaps the audience should have been left still wondering. Regardless, a few years from now this film will be shown in high school health classes across the country, teaching kids about teamwork, respect for authority and everything you should’ve learned in kindergarten.
Promotional passes to a free screening of “Gridiron Gang” tonight at 7:30 at the AMC Mazza Gallery theaters in Friendship Heights are still available in The Eagle’s business office.