“Get some popcorn ready because this is going to be a good one.” Or so says an ESPN commentator trying to pump up audiences at the beginning of NATIONAL CHAMPIONS. An NCAA football movie with no football.
Here’s my play-by-play review:
The first act of the film is slow. We are talking slower than watching a live NFL game with commercials. Before Emmett Sunday (Alexander Ludwig) and LeMarcus James (Stephan James) set up their NCAA National Championship game boycott, the two of them have time to act out a scene from PULP FICTION. Elsewhere we get good actors, trapped in hotel rooms, without much to do but wait for the big boycott to occur.
After 30 minutes, the boycott hits, and the film picks up some yards before being hit with a penalty. That whistle is blown because rather than focus on a topical conversation about the NCAA not paying their student-athletes, it gets sidetracked, focusing on several meandering plots. As a result, each character gets an on the nose monologue, from Timothy Olyphant playing a college professor to Kristin Chenoweth’s non-sing worthy speech to her husband (J.K. Simmons).
The head coach (J.K. Simmons), and Lemarcus (Stephan James), have turned in several speeches that almost make me feel that this movie will get the first down. Especially two scenes. One with Stephan James hyping his fellow teammates to join him in his boycott while a reporter listens in. And the other with the head coach giving the team a speech of a lifetime to try and get them to take the field. This speech has my favorite quote from the film, “coaches are just players that can’t play the game anymore.”
NATIONAL CHAMPIONS fumbles the ball in the red zone. There are just too many twists and subplots that do not add to the main thread of Lemarcus’s boycott. Instead, they take away from the emotional impact the film could’ve had on audiences. The film is also “the watergate of football movies” because 95% is shot in dark hotel rooms.
If it’s true that “life is about losing,” I hope that director Ric Roman Waugh (GREENLAND) takes that lesson to heart with this one. The film missed at the box office, only grossing $408k since released last week, and is getting mediocre reviews. However, “college football is as inevitable as the rain,” and I trust it’s inevitable that Ric Roman Waugh will make a better film again.
It’s available in theatres.