Mark Wahlberg (Three Kings, Planet of the Apes) stars as Vince Papale who gets to live his dream, playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. As Vince’s personal and economic problems mount, his close-knit friends beg him to go to the open tryouts for the upcoming 1976 Eagle’s season.
Unlike the title suggests; Vince definitely isn’t immune to challenges while pursuing a spot on the Eagles – the biggest one being his confidence level. He wants to fulfill his great dream of playing for his hometown, but his doubtful predictions continue. “They need a football player, not me,” he says.
Greg Kinnear (Sabrina, As Good as It Gets) co-stars as new Philadelphia Eagles coach Dick Vermeil. Kinnear actually spent time with Vermeil as he coached his last year for the Kansas City Chiefs. Kinnear has an authentic look and good presence especially during practice sessions as he tries to heal this losing team. “I’ll sleep in December,” Vermeil tells his wife as he prepares the playbooks late at night. His speeches and instructions rouse some fire in his players, but he never hits it out of the park.
Vince demonstrates great football skills especially when playing late-night street ball with his friends in South Philadelphia. The guys play without pads after work and even bash each other into cars that provide lighting. The “mud ball” sequence is memorable. Wahlberg definitely has the physical presence for the role and acts with quiet determination amid doubting fans, friends and even family.
Vince’s quiet determination provides a different spin on the uplifting sports drama and the actors playing his friends slide seamlessly into their role (appearance, dialect, local accent, etc.) that their sometimes cheesy dialogue becomes the only reason not to totally lose yourself in their characters. Vince’s friends cover both ends from supportive (“It’s a good thing no matter how long it goes”) to downright depressing (“after this, you’ll be nothing, just like the rest of us”).
Elizabeth Banks (“Scrubs” television series) plays Janet Cantrell, a co-worker who also becomes a romantic interest. She builds chemistry with Vince over NFL trivia while causing his friends some comedic grief when she openly displays her favorite team. “I’m not disrespecting his (Vince’s) team, I’m just respecting mine,” she says as she whips out her team’s t-shirt. Filmmakers keep families in mind by keeping the predictable love scene off screen.
Filmmakers add a weak subplot about Vince’s mother with no flashbacks or visuals, but still adds some emotion when Vince and his dad, Frank, reminisce about the past and visit each other. Another filler role, a local reporter, is played by veteran actor Jack Kehler (Fever Pitch). “This even is more stupid than I’m used to,” he says during the open tryouts. Eventually Vince’s resilience comes through providing some much needed heart on the team and inspiration for the community.
Director/cinematographer Ericson Core starts his feature film debut with a collage of Philadelphia native and great beginning overhead shot of the final Eagles’ game of the 1975 season. Core continues to produce nice camera shots with creative movement including a tracking shot during a game at Dallas that goes right down the line of scrimmage.
Football fans who watched the actual events and/or are familiar with the players during this time might get more out of the film, but it still works well as an inspiring family film. This formulaic, but effective, sports drama clocks in at about 1 hour and 45 minutes and unfortunately ends fairly abruptly. The great musical soundtrack includes songs from Jim Croce, The Who and Rod Stewart. Filmed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas.
You’re likely to have enough emotion to raise your arms in victory at times, but mostly you’ll come away with a satisfying, but not earth shattering experience – the kind of satisfied walk that Vince takes many times down the streets of Philadelphia. Recommended with reservations (**) and rated PG for language and football violence. Gridiron Gang (my review is forthcoming) is better, but each film targets a different audience. You can also look forward to We are Marshall by the end of the year for a football filled fall.