The Rock ï¿½ sorry, Dwayne Johnson ï¿½ sure has come a long way from his melodramatic days as a WWE superstar. His first major film role, as the Scorpion King in 2001ï¿½s The Mummy Returns was more about his physical presence than any acting ability. Two years later, he proved he could handle action comedy with The Rundown. Now, with Gridiron Giants, Johnson has added the drama notch to his genre belt.
The film, based on a true story and following a 1993 TV documentary of the same name, tells…the story of a group of juvenile criminals who learn how to turn their lives around through participation in a football team, coached by their detention center supervisor (Johnson).
These kids lead rough lives, with gang violence, drugs and theft an accepted part of their reality. Some of the guys in the detention centre, Camp Kilpatrick, are killers. For any of them, itï¿½s just a matter of time before theyï¿½re a few years older and imprisoned for life, or shot dead and buried six feet under.
Thatï¿½s the reality their eventual coach is trying to change. Echoing his own life, Johnson plays a former college football star, and heï¿½s inspired to use football to help these kids become winners, not on the football field, but in life.
The strengths of Gridiron Gang are its story and its cast. Although the film fictionalizes the true story of the Camp Kilpatrick Mustangs football team, thereï¿½s enough truth here to provide a feeling of reality. Adding to that are cast highlights Johnson as Sean Porter, and Jade Yorker (Snow Day) as Willie Weathers, a convicted killer and the teamï¿½s star running back. Yorker displays a range of emotion here that adds a great depth to his characterï¿½s life struggle, which serves as a window to viewersï¿½ empathy for Willie Weathers. These two are backed by a strong cast including Xzibit (Pimp My Ride) and Deadwoodï¿½s Leon Rippy.
Helping things along is a strong script by Jeff Maguire (In The Line of Fire), who managed to write believable dialogue for a group of gang-bangers and their frustrated case workers. As we learn from this DVDï¿½s special features, Maguire took advantage of being on location at Camp Kilpatrick to sit down with the real kids to check his script.
Thereï¿½s also plenty of great football action here, with some excellent player rivalries adding personality to the bone-crunching sequences. Also, the progression of these players from awkward rookies to an experienced team is handled well, which works nicely with the positive progression in their lives.
However, Gridiron Gang is not without its weak points. First we have the score by Trevor Rabin (Glory Road), which is just too sappy for the context. The filmï¿½s first 20 minutes are really gritty, and introduce the harsh reality these kids face. Halfway through the film, Rabinï¿½s score has done everything it can to forget the reality and play up the inspiration. The best happy endings are all about delayed gratification, and this score jumps the gun.
Another weakness is a general departure from that first 20 minutes. After our introduction to the dangerous lives of these boys, the film pulls too many of its punches, and plays up the positive transformations of its characters. This is the result of leaning toward the established formula for this type of movie, but thatï¿½s no excuse.
So the film is a solid presentation of an inspiring true story, but could have used a little more of its own reality. Howï¿½s the DVD?
Gridiron Gang is presented on one disc, in 2.40:1 widescreen format. The picture is sharp and clear, with natural colours. There are no discernable compression issues here, so kudos to the DVD transfer folks.
The menu is animated, and scored.
English audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, and it sounds great. All dialogue, music and effects are clear, and youï¿½ll really feel the hard hits in the football sequences.
Audio is also offered in French 2.0 surround, while subtitles are available in English and French.
Gridiron Gang offers up an average set of bonus material. Satisfactory to most viewers, Iï¿½m sure, but big fans may be disappointed. Hereï¿½s the list:
- Audio commentary: by director Phil Joanou and writer Jeff Maguire. They discuss the usual stuff, including scenes that were cut, and the experience of shooting on location.
- Deleted scenes: with 15 scenes totaling about 23 minutes, this collection is quantity over quality. Everything here was cut for good reason, though too bad for Xzibit that his most interesting work was cut.
- Gridiron Gang: Football Training: at about six minutes, this featurette covers a bit about the three-week training camp the actors endured prior to shooting. Pretty grueling stuff, but nothing we havenï¿½t seen before.
- Phil Joanou Profile: this oneï¿½s only four minutes long, and it explains what inspired Joanou, and how he worked on the film.
- The Rock Takes the Field: another four-minute featurette, this one presents a behind-the-scenes look at shooting Johnsonï¿½s football scene, and how he was happy to put the pads back on, having played college ball for U of Miami.
- Multi-Angle: Football Scene: five sequences, five angles. Nice to see them taking advantage of this DVD feature, but Iï¿½ve never really cared much about the whole multi-angle deal.
- Previews: the usual stuff, with the highlight being a trailer for Nick Cageï¿½s Ghost Rider.
Gridiron Gang is an entertaining and somewhat inspiring film, but itï¿½s hard to separate the real story from the formula. The DVD has solid audio and video, and a decent set of extras. Fans of the sports genre will welcome this into their collection.
Special Features List
- Audio commentary
- Deleted scenes
- Gridiron Gang: Football Training
- Phil Joanou Profile
- The Rock Takes the Field
- Multi-Angle: Football Sequence