Every time I review one of these goopy, preachy films aimed at a Christian audience, I have to write the same disclaimer that I don’t dislike it because of its Christian worldview but because it’s just plain bad. Admittedly, a lot of the time, the religious aspects of these movies demand that they be unrealistically wholesome and lack any sense of daring. This is the catch with Thomas Carter’s When the Game Stands Tall, a movie that only incidentally feels like a Christian film, but is much more about football and becoming an honorable, humble man and overcoming adversity and other such pap. The reality is that the movie’s corny, drab and troublesome in its outlook towards race, a concoction that makes When the Game Stands Tall a dreary proposition. The film’s based on the true story of coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) and his De La Salle High School football team, which once won 151 games in a row, before — at least according to the film — cockiness and laziness did them in. When the Game Stands Tall is centered around the end of the streak and all the real-life melodrama that surrounded it — from Bob’s heart attack to the death of a former player — and Bob’s attempts to get them back to the top through grit, hustle, teamwork and the Good Book. Again, the Christian stuff feels almost incidental, and only pops up through Bob occasionally quoting scripture and one player (Joe Massingill, A Good Day to Die Hard) who’s taken a “purity promise” with his girlfriend. Mostly, it just feels like filler to reach maximum Middle-American wholesomeness, right alongside all the football and the team visiting a VA hospital. At the center of all this is Caviezel, who’s become — unequivocally — the most boring actor alive, a man who just waltzes on screen, stone-faced and with the gravitas of a wet paper towel, to speak only in platitudes and quote Scripture. He’s a dispassionate cipher of a performer, and his self-seriousness makes placing him at the film’s emotional center a drain on the entire picture. All of this combined would, at the very least, make for a boring, forgettable movie. But When the Game Stands Tall goes beyond that into the territory of truly awful with its portrayal of its black characters, despite its director being black too. Even with a handful of African-American actors in the film, their characters are portrayed as stereotypes, living in dangerous neighborhoods and full of themselves until they’re taught how to play football the “right way” by their white coaches and teammates. T.K. (Stephan James), who personifies one of the “good ones” ends up being shot to death. It all feels gross when propped up next to the rest of When the Game Stands Tall’s values, while the entire film ends up feeling closed-minded and backwards, without even the ability to stand up as simple entertainment. Rated PG for thematic material, a scene of violence and brief smoking.
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