After short-tempered professional basketball coach, Marcus Marokovich, is involved in a drink driving accident, he is given two options: Go to jail for 18 months or complete 90 days of community service. Realising the latter option is the better deal, Marcus agrees to take on the community service, which involves coaching an amateur basketball team comprised of players who all have learning disabilities.
When Marcus meets the team for the first time, he’s unsure if he will be able to coach the players – especially as he considers his role as the coach of an amateur team a step down from his professional work. However, after spending a short time with the group, Marcus comes to appreciate everyone’s individual personalities and sees their potential.
Over the coming days he works hard to shape the players and transform the team. He also begins a relationship with the sister of one of the players, which brings him even closer to the group.
Directed by Bobby Farrelly, and based on the Spanish film, Campeones, Champions stars Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson, Ernie Hudson, Cheech Marin, and Madison Tevlin. The movie is a sports comedy about changing mindsets and perspectives and is currently on theatrical release in both the UK and the US.
Told with its heart largely in the right place, and featuring a good cast, Champions is an easy watch and something that passes a couple of hours. It is an underdog story with plenty of heart, and it serves up all the right uplifting moments at exactly the right time.
However, similar to fellow sports comedy, 80 for Brady (which is new to the UK this week), the movie struggles in the laughter department. Most of the film’s jokes don’t land, those that do have been done many times before, and the whole thing feels bizarrely devoid of mirth.
Director Bobby Farrelly (one half of the Farrelly brothers) has been involved with movies such as Dumb and Dumber (1994), Kingpin (1996), and There’s Something About Mary (1998), yet Champions is nowhere near as humorous. At times, it feels like it is trying to lean in the same direction, but it never gets anywhere close.
So, without the big laughs, Champions mostly has to rely on its charm. This isn’t a bad thing, because the movie has boat loads of it, but it does unbalance the picture somewhat.
Where the film truly shines is in the casting department. Woody Harrelson is excellent (as always), as coach Marcus, while the basketball team – made up of various newcomers – all add something fun to the film.
One of the movie’s standout stars is Madison Tevlin, who takes on the role of young player, Consentino, and while her part in the film is relatively small, she steals every scene she is in. Tevlin is responsible for delivering some of the better gags, and had the film invested a little more time into her character, it certainly would have been much funnier.
But irrespective of who gets to do what, this is a team effort. Champions has a strong ensemble, which is the ace up its sleeve, and this is ultimately what carries it from start to finish.
Outside of the cast, the film has a decent spirit and a number of likeable scenes. Sure, it’s not going to surprise anyone with its story, but it will get people on board with its good intentions.
So long as you approach this movie with the knowledge that it won’t create huge belly laughs, Champions is OK. It is only OK, and not much more, but OK is still better than bad.
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