" This is a situation that needs to get un-fucked right now "
— Colm Meaney, Con Air

MRQE Top Critic

Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

Sponsored links

Every once in a while, a movie with an artificial heart of gold and the best of intentions falls flat on its face. That’s Champions.

Visualize Success

Phil (Ernie Hudson) and Marcus (Woody Harrelson)
Phil (Ernie Hudson) and Marcus (Woody Harrelson)

Unfortunately, Champions plays it safe and strictly by the book as it quickly devolves into a tedious run-through of feel-good movie tropes and energy-deprived character interactions.

Marcus (Woody Harrelson, Triangle of Sadness) is a coaching assistant in “J League” basketball, but he insists he should be an NBA coach. Aside from the fact he’s an ass who pushes the head coach right there on the court in the middle of a game, even the coach, Phil (Ernie Hudson, Ghostbusters), acknowledges nobody knows the game better than Marcus.

But Marcus has a blind spot: he doesn’t get to know his players as people; he knows them merely as positions on the court. Building relationships isn’t exactly his sweet spot.

All of this, naturally, becomes central to Marcus’ life even as it comes crashing down around him. He rear-ends a cop car pulled over while busting some street thugs. From there, Marcus is bounced over to court — not the basketball court, the judicial court — where he’s dribbled down to a punishing sentence of 90 days community service. It’s either that or 18 months in the slammer.

He chooses wisely. He takes the community service.

His punishment — as passed down by the “hanging judge” — is to coach a team of otherwise-abled players, a group of guys with Down’s syndrome, brain damage sustained in accidents and other challenges.

The Friends

The setup has possibilities, but Champions has problems.

Considering it’s from Bobby Farrelly — co-director of awesome comedies like There’s Something About MaryChampions should be a slam dunk. But, while brother Peter struck gold with Green Book a few years back, Bobby struggles mightily in shooting for relevancy to call his own.

It’s all too neat and tidy as everything falls into place with carefully placed bits of drama that aren’t particularly dramatic and dabs of humor that most of the time aren’t particularly funny.

Marcus supposedly has a really bad temper, as demonstrated in his on-court fracas, but his bad attitude and his hot temperament cool off far too quickly, stunting the drama of Marcus taking on his new temporary responsibility. Of course, a one-night-stand he meets on a dating app, Alex (Kaitlin Olson, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), turns out to be the sister of one of the players, Johnny (Kevin Iannucci, Embattled). Johnny could also be called “Stinky” because he never showers; he acquired a fear of water after a pool incident.

With Marcus quickly adapting to his new team and almost immediately displaying newfound sensitivities, there’s not a lot of genuine emotion to be had here and there’s only one modest non-surprise revolving around a player who insists on making backward shots — a twist that’s made “right” in a post-credits bit.

Iowa Stallions

Marcus and the Friends
Marcus and the Friends

It’s a long slog as Champions wades through one obvious setup and plot point after another. The on-and-off romance, building a winning team, dropping NBA ambitions in favor of a new family of players. Ironically, for Marcus, the 90 days of community service fly by. For audiences, every day is felt within the movie’s 123-minute run-time.

Champions practically begs for the tagline “Inspired by a true story,” something to forgive its fomulaic familiarity. Alas, it’s not. But it is based on the 2018 Spanish movie Campeones, for what it’s worth.

Things perk up when Consentino (Madison Tevlin), a girl with Down’s and a feisty spirit, comes on the scene. She’s a no-nonsense person with a can-do attitude who gets the guys back on the court and in winning shape. Consentino is exactly what Champions needs more of; her role is too limited when she could’ve been a central catalyst for so much more: more humor, more inspiration.

On the other side of the narrative, Darius (Joshua Felder) is the one source of legitimate drama. Darius suffered brain damage in a car accident involving a drunk driver. The fact Marcus was drunk at the time of his accident keeps Darius at a distance for the bulk of the movie. His personal revelation is powerful. Like Consentino, Champions would benefit from more time with Darius.

Instead, Champions simply follows the standard playbook of mildly amusing game action and sappy subplots, including one in which budget cuts threaten to cancel the team’s trip to Winnipeg for a championship game. That leads to a silly diversion in which Marcus and Alex scam funds from a player’s former employer. Again, no drama, no surprise.