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'Game' plays with underdog heart

Category: The Game of Their Lives Reviews
Article Date: April 22, 2005 | Publication: THE WASHINGTON TIMES | Author: Gary Arnold
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"The Game of Their Lives," which alludes to a World Cup soccer game in 1950, concludes an agreeably hokey sports trilogy about gallant underdogs from the team of director David Anspaugh and screenwriter Angelo Pizzo.
Their prototype was the 1986 sleeper "Hoosiers," celebrating an Indiana high school basketball team of three decades earlier that parlayed stall tactics and timely sharpshooting into an upset victory in the state final. Seven years later, "Rudy" glorified a Notre Dame football scrub who finally earned game time at the end of his never-say-die college career.
Returning to the Midwest and the early 1950s, the filmmakers here highlight soccer when it was an obscure pastime for American players. According to "Game," one of the far-flung hotbeds of soccer was an Italian-American neighborhood in St. Louis known as the Hill. Five members of the local amateur league are chosen for a hastily organized American entry in the World Cup competition in Brazil. The team is given little chance of success and scant practice time. According to a gruff sportsman played by John-Rhys Davies, the Americans are expected to "mature and lose graciously."
The U.S. contingent is dominated by players from the Ivy League and St. Louis, prompting lame, token attempts to suggest that class and regional resentments might interfere with overnight bonding. There are entertaining aspects to the recruitment process: Training standards are shrugged off, allowing several players to continue hard drinking and cigar-smoking.
The filmmakers pretend that only one game matters: a bracket opener in which the Americans face the heavily favored English team. Evidently, this upset classic actually followed two losses: a narrow one to the Spanish and a lopsided one to the Italians. The movie is forgetful about anything that might have occurred in the World Cup competition apart from the U.S.-England match.
Framed in flashback, the chronicle is attributed to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter with the awesome name Dent McSkimming. He enters as a reminiscing old fellow played by Patrick Stewart, encountered while attending a game in the present at RFK Stadium, where surviving veterans of the 1950 team will be honored. Terry Kinney plays the younger McSkimming.
To the movie's credit, the game simulations are consistently dynamic and effective. A number of semifamiliar actors give the team a likable, invigorating set of personalities, from admirably stable in the case of Gerard Butler as goalie Frank Borghi and Wes Bentley as forward Walter Bahr (father of NFL placekickers Matt and Chris) to potentially flaky in the case of Jay Rodan's "Pee Wee" Wallace and happy-go-lucky center Joe Gaetjens (Jimmy Jean-Louis), a transplanted Haitian living in New York.
The film is slow to clarify that many of the players are World War II combat veterans, a bonding element that might outrank many others in real life. You're reminded that Hollywood never found a way to make a memorable film about the impact of GI Bill undergraduates in the years immediately after the war. "The Game of Their Lives" might have partially corrected this oversight, but it settles for a skimpier evocation of Americana.

**1/2
TITLE: "The Game of Their Lives"
RATING: PG (Fleeting profanity and episodes about boozing athletes)
CREDITS: Directed by David Anspaugh. Screenplay by Angelo Pizzo, based on a book by Geoffrey Douglas. Cinematography by Johnny E. Jensen. Production design by Linda Burton. Costume design by Jane Anderson. Music by William Ross and Jerry Goldsmith
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

 


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