|Gridiron Gang (2006)
Starring: The Rock, Xzibit, Vanessa Ferlito, L. Scott Caldwell, Leon Rippy, Kevin Dunn, Jade Yorker, Setu Taase, David V. Thomas
Director: Phil Joanau
What can you say about one true life sports drama that hasn’t already been said about another? In the case of “Gridiron Gang”: absolutely nothing. Actually, most people have already seen this movie before; it was called “Remember the Titans,” but instead of juvenile delinquents, it was about race segregation. Same difference, really, since it features two groups of kids who have to learn how to work together as a team, not to mention a pair of stand-out rivals (in this case, gang members) who become friends when it’s all said and done. Oh, and while they might not win the championships, they’re still all winners in the end, right? Not really, because while the film may be based on a true story, you can’t help but feel that it follows the same tired formula that Disney has since run into the ground.
Based on the story of Camp Kirpatrick, the first juvenile correctional facility to establish a successful football program, the film stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Sean Porter, a mentor at the facility who comes up with the idea as a means to boost self-esteem and help prevent repeat offenders. At the forefront of the program is Willy Weathers (Jade Yorker), an LA gangbanger who’s recently arrived at the facility after shooting his abusive stepfather in self-defense. Convinced that Willy has the potential to succeed in football, Sean takes a special interest in the kid, especially when he discovers that Willy’s cousin lasted only a few days on the outside before being killed by a drive-by shooting.
The Rock turns in a satisfactory performance as the mentor/coach, but he’s no Denzel Washington. In that case, he’s also no Samuel L. Jackson (“Coach Carter”), Gene Hackman (“Hoosiers”), or any other big-name actor who’s taken on the role in the past twenty years, and it would have been a lot more fun to see the former college football star trade in his whistle and suit up for some real pigskin action. Of course, this junior version of “The Longest Yard” has its share of entertaining moments, but there’s not quite enough to warrant yet another movie about some down-and-out football team, especially one about a bunch of criminals.
Let me be frank when I say that there was absolutely no reason to make this film. There’s nothing about “Gridiron Gang” that necessarily makes it a bad film, but there isn’t anything that makes it stand out either. It’s all been-there-done-that material, and while director Phil Joanou struggles to prove just how much the program has changed these kids’ lives, it doesn’t look nearly as impressive on paper. The opening of the film states that, upon being released, 75% of juvenile delinquents either return to jail or die on the streets, but at the film’s conclusion (when the obligatory “where are they now” voiceover kicks in), it doesn’t feel like anything has really changed. Almost 50% of the kids that played on the team that year still became part of the statistic, and if you were to then apply that number to the overall population (a reported 150,000 kids that are placed into a juvenile correctional facility each year), it doesn’t even make a dent. That’s kind of how I felt about “Gridiron Gang,” because no matter how many sob stories were thrown my way, none of them had much of chance of leaving a lasting impression.
The football sports drama has been so overdone that not even the most inspirational tales can break free from the general feeling of blandness, so it’s not very surprising that the DVD for “Gridiron Gang” is as lackluster as the film itself. Featuring a been-there-done-that audio commentary with director Phil Joanou and writer Jeff Maguire, the single-disc release also includes the usual array of worthless deleted scenes, a short featurette on the football boot camp the players were put through before filming (“Gridiron Gang: Football Training”), a behind-the-scenes look at The Rock’s day of filming in football gear (“The Rock Takes the Field”), and a multi-angle composition (featuring five different camera angles) for several of the film’s football sequences.