Wednesday, March 8, 2023

'Champions' is no slam-dunk

     Woody Harrelson plays a basketball coach with a bad temper in Champions, a movie in which Harrelson's Marcus falls from coaching grace, drives while under the influence, and winds up sentenced to community service. His assignment: coaching a team of developmentally disabled youngsters.
     Unlike in basketball games, no clear winner emerges in a movie that wobbles across familiar terrain. Director Bobby Farrelly remakes the Spanish film Campeones to mixed results. Echoes of The Bad News Bears and a variety of other underdog movies ring throughout. 
     Teaching the kids, who seem to enjoy goofy behavior, can be difficult: One of them (Bradley Edens) insists on shooting the ball backward over his head. He never makes a shot but considers himself a master at the art of celebration.
    The young players aren't highly skilled but one of them (Joshua Felder) had a shot at collegiate ball until he suffered a brain injury in a car accident. Felder's Darius could help the team. He refuses to play. Can Marcus change his mind? 
    Madison Tevlin plays Cosentino, the sole female member of the team and one of the more spirited young actors.
    Modest and minimally amusing, the movie introduces a bit of romance when Marcus realizes that a woman (Kaitlin Olson) he once slept with is the older sister of one of the players (Kevin Iannucci) on his happily inept team. 
   In addition to Harrelson, two other adults have notable roles: An underutilized Ernie Hudson plays the college basketball coach who fires assistant coach Marcus for bad behavior, thus getting the story started.
    Adopting a social worker's knowing but compassionate demeanor, Cheech Marin portrays Julio, the head of the community center where the team -- known as The Friends -- practices.
    A predictable story arc dribbles toward the inevitable big game while Marcus learns to set aside his bitterness and become a mensch and Iannucci's character struggles to convince his sister to allow him to move into a group home.
  In  the past, Farrelly has worked with his brother Peter on movies such as There's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber, and Shallow Hall.  That resume should let you know that Champions doesn't tug too hard on the heartstrings. I guess that's good.
  But the movie's various elements -- from raunchy teen humor to the conspicuous shattering of stereotypes -- don't cohere into a winning whole. Unlike more satisfying formula jobs,  Champions takes its shot only to watch the ball bounce off the rim.

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