Much like the film’s title, American Underdog (2021) exceeds at every moment to prove it’s better than most would expect. Directors Jon and Andrew Erwin deliver a very inspirational story, some solid football moments, and a few really solid montages by lesser-known actors among their talented leads – ot to take away from the lead performances who carry this film tucked safely in their elbow as they charge towards the endzone.
Kurt Warner’s 1999 Cinderella season is one that I will never forget, as he defeated my favorite team, the Tampa Bay Bucs, to take his Rams to the Super Bowl. This film goes back a bit further, with Zachary Levi playing Warner through from College, to the draft, to his failures, to Arena Football, and then to the Rams in 1999. While football is his dream and goal, the movie really centers on his relationship with Brenda (Anna Paquin) and her children. There are definitely some melodramatic moments that don’t work quite as well, but the movie manages to keep you invested and inspired by Warner’s story.
The smaller performances were the ones that really stunned me in this film. Chance Kelly plays Ram’s offensive coordinator, Mike Martz, and really crushes the role. I don’t know how accurate his Martz was, but the arc of the character is short and important to the third act of the film. He is given a lot to do and makes the most of it. Then there is Brenda’s father, played by Danny Vinson, who gives such a good monologue in the middle of the film that I immediately had to know who this guy was. It would have been easy for both parts to be impactful, considering the talent on the roster, – but I wasn’t as familiar with these guys, and yet they stepped up big time.
Football is obviously prominent in this story, and it could have been easily a weakness due to budget or two directorial choices. Fortunately, the scenes are competently shot, and once Warner is in the NFL, it really kicks up a notch. In fact, they do a thing that worked really well with cutting from the actors to what appears to be actual game footage. This was able to showcase their attention to detail to the events that happened. It probably shouldn’t, but it did add a level of authenticity to the rest of the story.
American Underdog deserves to be seen. It is a truly inspirational story whether or not you agree with the religious undertones of the film. Warner and Brenda’s story is one that I felt a strong emotional connection with while watching, and the story left an impact on me. American Underdog earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.