BACK TALK

2-4-6-8 who do we appreciate?

Time and time again, we cheer for the sports movie, even if we’ve seen it all before

John Intini February 28 2005
BACK TALK

2-4-6-8 who do we appreciate?

Time and time again, we cheer for the sports movie, even if we’ve seen it all before

John Intini February 28 2005

2-4-6-8 who do we appreciate?

on MOVIES

Time and time again, we cheer for the sports movie, even if we’ve seen it all before

John Intini

THE COACH OF my Grade 8 basketball team used to call me a defensive specialistlooking back, that may have had more to do with my 1.2 points per game average than my skill at blocking shots. Regardless, I felt like I was back on the court while watching Coach Carter— the story of a high school basketball coach starring Samuel L. Jackson. In fact, when one of Ken Carter’s Richmond Oilers drains a last-second shot, I was barely able to restrain myself from leaping out of my comfy theatre seat and swinging around my winter scarf in celebration. It was a perfect onscreen moment matched with an equally perfect song. Once again, a sports film had me, in this case, at tipoff.

Hard to believe, but if Clint Eastwood’s tear-jerker Million Dollar Baby upsets The Aviator and wins the Oscar for best picture, it will be only the third sports film to take home the Academy’s biggest prize (Rocky, 1976; Chariots of Fire, 1982). Critics often complain that sports-themed movies are too formulaic, but that formula is exactly why so many of us (both athletes and out-ofshape dreamers) get all wrapped up in them. Who needs complexity when you’ve got a rebel with potential or a geek turned hero, a coach looking to impart a few life lessons and a seemingly unbeatable rival?

The beauty of it is, no matter how it’s put together, it almost always works— from the classics, including Hoosiers,

The Hustler má Raging Bull, to more recent, less-respected

Hollywood offerings, including White Men Cant Jump, Varsity Blues and Bring It On. (Yes, cheerleading is a sport, and yes, this is a great movie.) And I can’t wait to see Will Ferrell’s take on the genre in the upcoming soccer comedy Kicking & Screaming. Unlike horror flicks, which have lost their fear factor over time, sports films have aged remarkably well. Just consider Dodgeball—Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn’s 2004 ode to gym nerds.

Though most moviegoers appreciate a good plot twist, we’ll take stories as straight as a line drive as long as they involve athletes. How else do you explain multiple viewings of Slap Shot and Field of Dreams? The reality is, sports movies are the ultimate fantasies—showing us things we wish we could do, or the things we’ve spent our entire adult lives claiming we did during our glory days.

And when it comes down to it, what type of miserable human can’t get behind an underdog? It’s nearly impossible to watch Sean Astin struggle to crack the Notre Dame football lineup in Rudy, or Hilary Swank scrap it out in Million Dollar Baby, without getting chills. Granted, Swank’s left hook won’t be the only reason the Academy picks the film for best picture. There’s a lot more to that movie than just the action in the ring. But still, at the film’s core is that perfect formula —a kid with a troubled past makes good—that leaves you defenceless. (Til

To comment: john.intini® macleans.rogers.com