The gritty Gridiron Gang stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Xzibit. They portray juvenile detention center officers who start a football team to save young men and encourage them to find their own special values.
Beginning statistics set the tone as a juvenile detention center manager and his colleague start a football team to improve their success rate and possibly save lives.
“We’re not even making a dent,” says a frustrated coach Sean Porter, played by Johnson (Scorpion King, Walking Tall) who actually played college football for the University of Miami.
“The Rock” definitely fulfills the physical requirements and credibility for the role. His physical presence and booming voice overshadow his modest talent for acting, but some emotional moments show his potential for a wider range in future endeavors.
Coach Porter instills discipline and self control into his players. “Your way got you here,” Coach Porter says to his team, The Mustangs, when laying down the rules.
Porter has unique accessibility at the center, which opens opportunities for deeper involvement in each young man’s life, including Billy Weathers, played by the talented Jade Yorker (Music of the Heart).
The plot incorporates elements of Porter’s past as well. Flashbacks could’ve been used here, but it might have shifted focus and even diminished Porter’s physical presence and influence.
Porter’s assistant coach and work colleague is Malcolm Moore, played by rapper/television show host Xzibit. It would’ve been nice to see Xzibit spread his acting wings more, but he does get a memorable moment convincing another coach to let the Mustangs play his team.
The coaches also get some support from their center director, played by Leon Rippy (Deadwood TV series) and his assistant, played by Kevin Dunn, while teaching players that caring for others and giving life “their best shot” will produce successful results.
These two men take on a lot of liability on multiple fronts as they try to get other local teams to play the Mustangs, which include other stand out players like Junior Palaita, played by Seta Taase, and Kenny Bates, played by Trever O’Brien.
The plot includes good supportive female roles (Porter’s mother and Billy’s girlfriend), but their positive influences are marginalized when subtle, yet lewd remarks and “smiles of approval” towards female cheerleaders surface.
The highly emotional action entertains the audience because the characters are empowered to act in opposite ways from the beginning of the plot.
Director Phil Joanou, widely known as a music video director, injects high action shots into the plot while filmmakers make no apologizes for language and realistic violence.
Recommended (***) and rated PG-13 for language, violence, a racial slur, and mature themes. The 120-minute running time may stretch some audiences, but the story definitely has merit and realistic relevance that makes a great cinematic connection.
Gridiron Gang is based on real life events at Camp Kilpatrick and the surrounding Los Angeles area. Watch the ending credits to see documentary footage (shown on television in 1993).