The true story of a man out to show kids that football offers a potential way out of a life of crime is fascinating. But the same can"t quite be said for its movie.
The truth on which Gridiron Gang is based simply does not bode well for incarcerated juvenile criminals trying to go the straight route. Probation officers Sean Porter (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) and Malcolm Moore (Xzibit) tried to buck the trend by doing something different, and in a small way they actually succeeded. Disappointed with the grim reality that roughly 75 percent of teenage inmates will not be rehabilitated, the two officers try to shake up the curriculum. After watching the young inmates feud with one another on a daily basis, Sean decides to turn the group into a high school football team in hopes of unifying them and rescuing them from lives of crime. Initially met with great trepidation from the inmates, their opponents and the bosses of their ward, Sean hopes to prove all the doubters wrong. In the process, he seeks freedom from his own demons as well.
It"s difficult to truly knock Dwayne Johnson--he currently shuns the name that begat his celebrity, The Rock, in favor of his birth name--for taking the pledge of serious actordom. After all, when any highly bankable actor makes such a decision--not to be confused with the comedy-to-drama crossover--isn"t it more admirable than the alternative of staying the same, finance-driven course? Alas, however, Gridiron is absolutely not a serious actor"s vehicle. Johnson has a few surprisingly tender close-ups, but most scenes feature him from afar, shouting his best chest-bump voice. Xzibit, attempting another kind of crossover (rapping to acting), is in almost every scene yet says almost nothing. Maybe the best performance comes from youngster Jade Yorker, who plays the team"s hotheaded star.Yorker"s emotional range (and shirtless prancing...for the ladies) makes him one to keep an eye on in the future.
Director Phil Joanou (Final Analysis) was given a twofold head start with Gridiron Gang: The genre that has become "football movies" has eclipsed "spelling-bee movies" in popularity, and the film is based on a true story. (Movie execs foam at the mouth over the prospects of a true-story dramatization.) But although Joanou succeeds in reducing R themes to PG-13 theatrics and some sharp football visuals, he appears unsure of whether he wants Gridiron to be more Remember the Titans or The Longest Yard. That doesn"t, in turn, mean that he has created a football-movie subgenre all his own, but rather that his tentativeness relegates the movie to its generic status, completely lacking in originality save for the original story on which it"s based. As for that original story, it suffers the same fate as most of those before it: film-worthy true stories transpire over much longer periods than the course of a two-hour movie (United 93"s "real time" notwithstanding), so the all-important subtlety is inherently lost from the get-go, as is, oftentimes the heart of the story.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.