Thursday, June 17, 2021

This football story fails to score

12 Mighty Orphans exemplifies what happens when a sports movie goes stale.  It’s almost as if someone found the movie in a vault and couldn’t quite shake the mold off it. Dreary by Depression-era trappings pervade this story of an underdog high-school Texas football team. The story focuses on a Fort Worth orphanage where many kids were abandoned by economically ravaged parents who no longer could care for them. Based on a true story, the movie shows how an innovative football coach, Luke Wilson's Rusty Russell brought a ragtag team to a high school championship game. The film tries to draw additional poignancy from the fact that Russell himself was an orphan. Every movie set in an orphanage needs an ogre. In this case, Wayne Knight fills the role as a tyrant who's embezzling funds and administering severe beatings to the young men of the Masonic Home for Orphans. The film also needs a kindly doctor, preferably one with a drinking habit: Enter Martin Sheen as Doc Hall. There's also the angry kid (Jake Austin Walker) who must learn to channel his fury onto the football field. Director Ty Roberts includes scenes in which Russell has PTSD-driven flashbacks to his combat days in World War I. The movie also bogs down in dealing with issues involving the orphanage's eligibility to compete at the highest high school level. Treat Williams shows up as a newspaper publisher who becomes a fan of the Mighty Mites. Blink and you'll miss a cameo by Robert Duvall. For all its trying, 12 Mighty Orphans feels as dusty and diminished as the Texas landscape. I'm no judge of Texas accents, so I'll assume the cast hit the right notes, but in the case of 12 Mighty Orphans, hitting the right notes results in a movie that's neither a devastating look at Depression-era suffering nor a rousing football yarn. The movie's not just old-fashioned; it’s just plain old.

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