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Goal! The Dream Begins

Despite being the most popular sport in the world, the type of football known in the U.S. as soccer is still patiently waiting for a worthy movie dramatization the film that captures its essence and becomes an inextricable part of its mythology, as The Natural did for baseball, Hoosiers for basketball, and Tin Cup for golf. In fact, coming up with a list of even satisfyingly mediocre soccer movies is a thankless chore, with the game's most notorious incarnation offered by John Huston's anemic World War II drama Victory, starring Sylvester Stallone and legendary player Pelé (who would also star in one of the worst, as the Mr. Miyagi-figure in 1987's ludicrous The Karate Kid rip-off Hotshot). With the sport's popularity gaining slowly in the United States, and the rock star-like status of its athletes across Europe, each year or so seems to bring at least one more attempt at breaking the sport's dreadful 0-0 draw with the movie industry, but the best so far have been merely amusing British comedies like Fever Pitch and Mean Machine. The 2005 drama Goal tries mighty hard to make an impression where others have failed, and often tries too hard. Kuno Becker stars as Santiago Munez, an illegal Mexican teenager in Los Angeles whose dull workaday life is made meaningful only by his showy dominance in the soccer field for a local amateur team. A down-on-his-luck former professional scout and player vacationing from England (Stephen Dillane) catches a glimpse of the wonderkid at play, and tries to resurrect connections with his old club Newcastle United to arrange a try-out. Without even the most tenuous of invitations, Santiago defies his sour puss father (Tony Plana) and, with some help from grandma (Miriam Colon), scrapes together enough cash for airfare to the UK to follow his dream. Naturally, the world of professional sport is cruel to innocent babes, and Santi encounters every imaginable sports cliché obstacle, and he is just about to pack it in on his dream before, believe it or not, he finally gets his shot at the big time.

Directed by London-born football fan Danny Cannon (best known for directing and producing TV's hit slick crime drama franchise "CSI"), Goal has the technical excellence of a top-notch Hollywood picture (incredibly, cinematographer Michael Barrett even makes gloomy Tyneside look lovely), and Becker has a good screen presence as a wholesome youth struggling with the pressures of life. But the film's novice screenwriting team of Mike Jefferies and Adrian Butchart do little more than pile on heap after heap of familiar melodrama with little credibility or inspiration. The best scenes involve Santi's rarely seen off-the-field interactions with his journeyman teammates and the few glimpses of Newcastle's rabid Geordie fans, but this local color is often forsaken for such gratuitous plot points that one is frankly amazed when Goal avoids the one enduring cliché of the soccer movie's last-second, big-match-winning bicycle kick. Nevertheless, Goal is mostly decent and family-safe, with a likeable hero, and despite action scenes that are less than thrilling for real-life soccer fans, appears to have already spawned two yet-to-be released sequels, so maybe one of them will be transcendent. Anna Friel is lovely as Santi's Magpie love interest, while Alessandro Nivola is unconvincing as a playboy soccer star. The film also includes brief appearances by several real-life Newcastle stars like Alan Shearer (and intercuts clips of real matches with the fictional narrative), plus somewhat ridiculous cameos by the likes of David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, and Raul. Buena Vista presents Goal: The Dream Begins in a good anamorphic transfer (2.40:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Cannon is joined by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais on a commentary track, and this disc also includes the featurettes "The Beautiful Game" and "Behind the Pitch," a "Golden Moments of the FIFA World Cup" montage, and the Happy Mondays music video "Playground Superstar." Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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