1999. Rated R. 162 minutes.
Cast: Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx,
Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, James Woods, LL Cool J, Jim Brown, Matthew
Modine, Ann-Margret, John C. McGinley, Lela Rochon, Lauren Holly, Elizabeth
Berkley, Lawrence Taylor
|Grade: C-||Review by Jeff Vorndam|
alf as long as The Super Bowl, but twice as long as its material warrants, Any Given Sunday arrives in theaters with all the bone crunching intensity of a blind side late hit, except that you can see it coming a mile away. Oliver Stone's crack team of editors (in order to beef up my word count, I will list them all: Stuart Levy, Thomas Nordberg, Keith Salmon, and Stuart Waks) rattle off shots like machine-gun fire. It's painful to watch at first, but it has its own rhythm. If you pay attention to only every third or fourth shot, the rest can wash over you and work on a subliminal level. As a sensorial evocation of football, Any Given Sunday acutely captures the bestial working conditions both on and off the field. It fails, however, to tell a compelling or believable story or to provide three-dimensional characters.
The story is essentially the same as any other sports movie. If you've seen Major League, you have a pretty good template for the plot of Any Given Sunday. Our team, in this case the Miami Sharks of the A.F.F.A., has seen better days. They're in the midst of a losing streak, and Coach Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino) feels his team coming apart at the seams. They were two-time league champions four years ago, but now many of their key players, like quarterback Jack "Cap" Rooney (Dennis Quaid), are over the hill. The huge supporting cast consists of characters with individual problems, tics, or issues that drive the story to its predictable conclusion--The Big Game. I'll give you three guesses who wins The Big Game (please, if you need more than two, seek help).
Any Given Sunday is 162 minutes long because it has to work in the following storylines:
Al Pacino as Coach Tony D'Amato. His personal life is in shambles (divorced, never sees his kids) and so is his team. An old-guard coach, he still attaches a larger meaning to football beyond wins and losses. He feels like an anachronism, and is increasingly frustrated by the intrusions of the young female owner of the team, Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz).
As the owner, Pagniacci finds herself an overwhelmed minority. Football is a man's world, from the gridiron up to the box seats, and she is constantly second-guessed and dismissed by staff and fellow owners. She represents the new breed though, where profitability is more important than loyalty or tradition. She also works under the shadow of her late father, a well respected and established figure in the sports and business worlds. She must stake her own claim.
Dennis Quaid is Cap Rooney. At 39, he's struggling to maintain his play at the level his teammates and fans expect. Early in the film, he goes down with a crushing injury that knocks him out of action for weeks. Addicted to pain-killers, Rooney rushes through the rehabilitation process in an effort to win his job back. His wife, Cindy (Lauren Holly), is unsupportive. She's become accustomed to Cap's fame and money and is upset when he suggests that his time may have passed.
Cap's competition for the quarterback slot is young Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx), a third-string seventh-round draft choice who is catapulted into the limelight after Cap (and the back-up quarterback!) go down in the same game. Beamen is brash, talented, and dyspeptic. He's representative of the new breed of ballplayer--more concerned with how he looks and how much he gets paid than anything else. He particularly clashes with D'Amato, especially by choosing to run his own plays in the huddle (which D'Amato somehow doesn't realize for a couple of games!).
James Woods is the team's doctor, Harvey Mandrake. His primary function in the movie is to provide a sneering source of evil, a task for which Woods is always prepared. As the doctor, he overmedicates players, diagnoses unfit players as healthy, and bristles when his idealistic (naive) assistant (played by Matthew Modine) suggests he consider what's best for the health of the players. Off the field, he's a world-class pussy hound. (If that sentence seems like an offensive non sequitur, that's the way the character comes across in the film--unnecessary and vulgar.)
LL Cool J is Julian Washington, the Sharks' star running back. The new pass-oriented offense spearheaded by Beamen takes the emphasis off of Washington. He's upset because that means he won't get the requisite number of ball carries and yards needed to earn his year-end bonus. Similarly, the legendary Lawrence Taylor plays defensive captain Shark Lavay, an elder statesman on the team whose injury puts his bonus in doubt. He's told his life will be at risk if he re-enters the game, but he's allowed to go for the cash anyway. Ann-Margret plays Margaret Pagniacci, Christina's mother. She spends her days drinking and flirting with D'Amato. Finally, it wouldn't be an Oliver Stone movie without John C. McGinley. This time he's an arrogant sportswriter named Jack Rose, who fawns over the new talent and has it out for Coach D'Amato (as does everyone in this movie, it seems).
Oliver Stone doesn't limit his scope to professional football. He wants the scenario of the Sharks to stand as a critique of current society, masculinity, and television. He has too much on his plate though. Only the most obvious connections are made: football is like war (the games are choreographed so similarly to the action in Platoon, you wait for Charlie Sheen's voiceover to kick in), its participants are modern-day gladiators (driven home in a scene between D'Amato and Beamen which is accompanied by Ben Hur on a TV in the same room), and television has corrupted a once noble sport. The latter point is probably the best expressed theme in the movie, as the television revenue (reliant on advertising from big corporations) looms like a specter behind most of the actions undertaken for the team's success. None of the characters feel like anything more than "movie" characters though, which robs the film of any verisimilitude.
The relation to the real world is further strained by the many mistakes in the depiction of the game of football. Touchdowns are awarded seven points without extra points being kicked. The scoreboard shows inaccurate scores, and lists the home team first instead of last. The Sharks wear the same uniform color regardless of whether they play at home or away. The team names are pretty rediculous too--the Sharks play The Emperors, The Americans, and the Icemen. Penalties are called that go the wrong way. No one ever gets called for a late hit, though there are several. (Excessive endzone celebration isn't penalized either.) And I'm not sure what professional wrestling circuit Stone cast the offensive line from. This would all be excusable if Stone clearly made this a fictional universe, but characters drop names of former players like Johnny Unitas and Barry Sanders, so his league comes off as laughably inaccurate. The most incredible plot aspect is Willie Beamen's improbable ascendency to superstardom. Within a mere two games, the former nobody is now on the cover of several national magazines (not even sports magazines, we're talking Time here) and star of a hit music video that has reached #13 on the charts. I realize the media glare is overstated here, but this is beyond belief. The end result is a film I could not take seriously. As Stone piled on more outrageous incidents (including a visit by the female owner to the locker room), it shifted from pointed commentary to slapdash parody. I started noting the parallels to the sophomoric Major League (Foxx's Beamen is the Wesley Snipes character, Quaid's Rooney is the Tom Berenger one, and Diaz' Pagniacci is Margaret Whitton's female owner). Finally, Oliver Stone continues his streak of writing unsavory roles for his female characters, as most of them in this movie are harpies, gold-diggers, ditzes, alcoholics, or prostitutes.
The Big Picture
The performances are good fun, though. I was impressed by the former players--Jim Brown does his best work since Fingers as an assistant coach and council to D'Amato, and Lawrence Taylor is surprisingly touching in a steam room scene where he persuades Beamen character to think of his role, his future, and of the others around him. Jamie Foxx is convincing as the strutting and preening young QB who grows up in a hurry. Though a role which requires a lot of yelling would seem ideal for Al Pacino, he's hardly the archetype for a professional football coach. Lou Holtz probably towers over Mr. Pacino. I thought Coach D'Amato's woes and desires were uninteresting, and it isn't until a speech before The Big Game that I took any notice of Pacino's performance. Saving the worst for last, Cameron Diaz, though a fine actress, was never believable and essentially out her league. By contrast, imagine how much better her Being John Malkovich co-star Catherine Keener would have been in the same role. She could have played ball with these fellows.
Oliver Stone appears to be on a greased track to hackdom with his last few
movies. He peaked with JFK and has produced diminishing returns ever
since. Nevertheless, his movies still provoke and demand to be seen, despite
their flaws. If you do catch Any Given Sunday, see it in theaters, where
Stone's maelstrom of images can pulverize you into submission.