It’s hard to make an original football movie. Under the Stadium Lights manages to find a fresh lane to run through only to get flagged for excessive negligence.
This would be a bad movie by any standard but as a football movie it ranks in the Hall of Fame of worse offenders.
There’s barely a point to the film with little story structure or compelling plot to make it worth watching let alone manage to be entertaining. Mediocre football films are inexcusable these days when there’s a solid weekend’s worth of high quality football movies available.
That’s not to suggest every football movie has to be a Remember the Titans, Any Given Sunday or even The Longest Yard, but there needs to be something that audiences can take away from it. It never feels like the filmmakers have a clue what they wanted from this movie and even less of an idea on how to execute it.
The first hour follows a basic pattern. Introduce one of the star players from the 2009 Abilene High School. Pepper in a some actual game footage and break down the hidden trauma of these poor minority students.
Under the Stadium Lights is based on the book Brother’s Keeper by Al Pickett and Chad Mitchell yet the way the film plays out, it feels so sterile and distant that it feels more like case studies of minority trauma.
Screenwriters John Collins and Hamid Torabpour happily play into every stereotype with these sports films. The star QB Ronnell Simms (Carter Redwood) keeps waiting for his druggie father (legit former NFL superstar Eddie George) to finally get clean. His cousin, Herschel (Acoryé White), is dealing with the fallout of his mother getting arrested for breaking her parole and Boo (Germain Arroyo) is trying to avoid the gang path of his brother.
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Milo Gibson (yes, Mel’s son) stars as Chad Mitchell, the town’s police chief/pastor/football pastor. Gibson carries the weariness of his various roles well enough while failing to show an innate warmth that would have so many confide in him.
Laurence Fishburne (Black-ish) is cast to bring in some badly needed credibility as Harold Christian, the semi-famous BBQ restaurant owner who would break out into song. Still, when Fishburne starts belting out “Amen,” within the structure of the film it feels like a terribly dated stereotype. That’s the problem when a film just dwells on so many tired narratives.
And sure, all of these subplots might have occurred, but Director Todd Randall lacks the nuance to do anything more than regurgitate them. There’s few positive adult minority figures for the students to see as aspirational figures. They’re called to simply ask if they’re their brother’s keeper — a mantra quickly introduced with little real explanation — and less implementation through the rest of the film.
That proves a real problem for Under the Stadium Lights. It’s clearly lining up in the inspirational side of the football movie genre yet the screenwriters tiptoe as delicately around faith as possible that it’s ineffective on all fronts.
This lukewarm approach is spew worthy as it won’t commit to one take or the other. If Stadium Lights leaned as earnestly into faith/religion as Facing the Giants is uncompromising approach would be commendable. Stadium Lights seeks to appeal to various masters without satisfying anyone.
The editing is very rough with cuts that don’t flow smoothly even in the context of one conversation. It all plays out so disjointedly and barely coherent from one character to the next. And the soundtrack doesn’t fit at all with the film.
Under the Stadium Lights fumbles its football overcoming tragedy approach with tired perspectives, uninspired performances and lousy editing. Just binge a season or two of All-American, which can have some dubious quality, but it at least has the decency to be entertaining.
Rating: 1 out of 10
Photo Credit: Saban Films