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Gridiron Gang

Gridiron Gang (2006) plays less like a movie and more like a Tony Robbins motivational seminar. It's a remake of a 1993 TV documentary about Sean Porter — a corrections employee who breaks gang ties by coaching an all-prisoner football team, the Mustangs, at California's Camp Kilpatrick juvenile facility. Clips from the original doc play over the end credits, and it looks a lot more interesting than the dramatization, which is an all-big-speeches slice of ham docudrama. "Gridiron" '06 has its heart in the right place; this is a great program that apparently gets results. And director Phil Joanou does superb work with both the actors and his handheld cameras. And, to be fair, there are standout sequences and moments — everything from a terrifying scene where gangbangers run down a rival to a simple shot where the light shifts as movie-Sean (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) tearfully exits a building while holding some flowers. But there's one big problem that kind of murders the film: the words coming out of everyone's mouths. This is only barely an exaggeration: Every single line The Rock delivers in Gridiron Gang is either a relentlessly rousing inspirational speech or a deeply moving heart-to-heart talk. And it's so wall-to-wall, it quickly becomes ridiculous. To be sure, The Rock's shock-and-awe charisma sells any of these speeches individually. (Any big fan of this actor is still holding his or her breath for a truly great follow-up to The Rundown). But two hours of watching him say nothing but "This is your 'hood now!" and "It's a whole new world out there when you earn things!" and "Now it's time to see who has heart!" and "Are you ready to accept the Mustang challenge?!" and "You are not the loser you were when you got here!" and… well, you get the idea. The whole movie's like that. Most of the kids either crack jokes or speak in frustrated clichés. The juvvie administrator speaks in shopworn phrases like, "Your neck is way out on this." And it all happens between football games that go on for what feels like hours. There's no room for three-dimensional characters amid all the two-dimensional uplift. The more complicated human situations that turned up in real life and might make for a more interesting sports movie — how the kids dealt with key late-season defeats, say, or why the program changed some kids' lives and not others' — are thrown away in a single voiceover at film's end. Again, this is a great program; it deserves a better movie. Sony's DVD release of Gridiron Gang offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a commentary track with director Phil Joanou and scenarist Jeff Maguire, 15 deleted scenes with optional commentary and "play all," the featurettes "Phil Joanou Profile" (4 min.) and "The Rock Takes the Field" (4 min.), and a multi-angle football scene. Keep-case.
Mike Russell

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