Weekly Five Spot: Overrated Sports Movies

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Weekly Five Spot: Overrated Sports Movies
You've been there, right Meat?

You walk out of the theater, and everyone around you is in an altered state. Laughing. Crying. Staring wide-eyed at the horizon, trying to grasp the emotional magnitude of the moment. Whatever you just watched—comedy, drama, animated Japanese snuff film—it moved the people who watched it with you, moved them so far and so fast that it's like they're hardly there at all anymore...and you'd go with them, if you could, would love to go with them to wherever it is they went, except—

You thought the thing sucked.

Overrated cinema is nothing if not a pervasive phenomenon—Sideways, anyone?—but the American viewing public seems to have a special soft spot for mediocre sports flicks. Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that so many of us never quite outgrew our childhood jock fantasies, so that now, as mature and easily manipulated consumers, we can't help but fawn over even the most banal vehicles of atavistic wish fulfillment. Or maybe it's more fundamental than that: maybe our national love affair with athletics in general and athletes in particular leaves us incapable of passing objective judgment on the subject, makes it so that we can't watch a sports movie without wanting to like it. It's like they say, after all: no man's head has ever managed to outwit his blind and bleeding heart.

And so we've got a sneaking suspicion that this week's list is going to, um, ruffle some feathers in the crowd. The five pictures panned here are sentimental favorites, the sort of gooey sap-fests that have a particularly irritating way of turning up on TBS every fifteen minutes. Should you find yourself among the offended, please accept our sincerest preemptive apologies...and know that your good friends at the Spot, for all their flippant journalistic bravado, still want to make one point very, very clear:

You wouldn't know quality filmmaking if it leapt off the screen and stole your bag of popcorn, Meat. So sit down and shut up, and let the big kids explain a few things to you...

Number Five: Seabiscuit

Did anyone else notice that the hero of this movie was a horse? Absurd equine fixation makes for a pretty easy target these days "get well soon, Barbaro" but honestly now: how seriously are we supposed to take a two-and-a-half hour, Randy Newman-scored fluff job about an overachieving thoroughbred? And yes, we can hear you Meat: what about the Depression, right?—what about the faith and the inspiration and the gloriously smooth-edged symbolism of it all? Well, history is hard to know, if we might steal a line, but it stands to reason that Joe Dust Bowl—the real, dying-of-hunger Joe Dust Bowl, not the one pandered to by a saccharine 1930s media establishment—was far more likely to eat a colt than cheer one. Which, come to think of it, would have made for a much more compelling film...

Number Four: Miracle

Right, right, we know: David, Goliath, morning in America, hope in a time of hopelessness, land where my fathers died of thee I sing—even before the Hollywood version hit theaters in 2003, the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team had been ground into the stuff of folksy patriotic kitsch. Americans—or is it just human beings?—have a funny knack for romanticizing the past, for remembering things as we would have wanted them to be, instead of as they actually were. So it is that the 1980s become a time of poptastic prosperity in our collective memory, and Ronald Reagan single-handedly wins the Cold War, and "Born in the USA" provides the thundering soundtrack for what is—what has to be—a singular triumph of the national will. Alas, that wasn't quite how things went—and without delving into the minutiae of glasnost and perestroika, we'd like to at least point out that the win at Lake Placid was still just hockey, no matter how much Al Michaels or anybody else wanted to pretend otherwise. That said, though, Miracle did have one thing going for it: the long-awaited big screen return of Kurt Russell (Coach Herb Brooks), which we can only hope marks the first step on the road towards a Tango and Cash sequel. Some things, after all, are worth romanticizing.

Number Three: Brian's Song

We're not gonna lie, Meat: we got our hopes up for this one. Conventional wisdom holds that a screening of Brian's Song is one of the few scenarios in which it's socially acceptable for a full-grown American male to weep in public—some others: weddings, funerals, anytime anyone mentions the scene at the end of Con Air with Nicholas Cage and the bunny and that heart-rending Trisha Yearwood song—and we at the Spot have always loved ourselves a good sob session. So we rented the movie, popped a box of Kleenex, and got ready with the waterworks...only to find ourselves woefully underwhelmed from start to finish. The hangups? Lando Calrissian as Gayle Sayers, for starters (sorry Billy Dee), and the fact that we spent the whole movie more or less waiting for James Caan to hurry up and die. Come on, right?: there's a right way to go, and then there's a wrong way to go. At least Sonny Corleone had the decency to buy the farm in one last blaze of badass glory.

Number Two: Chariots of Fire

Talk about your epic snoozers. Frankly, we're not sure how this one ever got to be acclaimed in the first place; the dialogue is forced, the plot unfolds with the urgency of a 50 K walk-a-thon, and Ian Charleson (starring as Eric Liddell, the Flying Scotsman) has a running gate that somehow evokes Stephen Hawking, to whatever extent that's even possible. There's the song, of course—the song, we mean; da da da da da dum, and so on and so forth—but even that can't save the thing from it's own skull-numbing drudgery...not when you the viewer are so busy wondering how you got conned into thinking that a character piece about the 1924 British track team could actually be worth a hundred and twenty minutes of your life. Oh well. Live and learn, Meat. Live and learn.

Number One: Rudy

You're five-foot nothing. A hundred and nothing. And the most obnoxious goddamned Golden Domer of all time, Lou Holtz notwithstanding. It's hard to say what exactly ruined Rudy for us. Maybe it was Sean Astin. Or the rampant Notre Dame idolatry. Or the fact that we would never, ever—never ever in a hundred goddamned years, Meat—want an obsequious little imp like Dan Ruettiger anywhere near our football team. Pluck has its place, to be sure, but even Horatio Alger knew that you could have too much of a good thing...and Rudy had the sort of gumption that only a myopic loser could love. And okay yes John Milton's Lucifer probably went a little overboard with the whole "better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav'n" ideology, but you've at least got to admit that eternal torment, on its face, seems a whole heap more enticing than playing the role of unheroic he-bitch to a host of the Lord's chosen few. The bottom line, maybe, is that a dreamer is only as good as that which he dreams of, and there are by our count no less than a million callings with more inherent worth—more self-justifying grandeur—than Rudy's scrubby delusions of paradise: there's garbage man, for one, and plumber, and even, well—

Even jaded, half-assed film critic, because God knows the world could use a few more of those...

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