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May 13, 2006 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | May 13, 2006 |

Walt Disney Pictures has a very specific recipe for these damned sport melodramas:

#1.) The Plot: preferably a heavily contrived yarn involving an underdog beating the odds to become super-cool champion-whatever. Possible permutations of the obstacles our hero has to face can include one or more of the following: racial prejudice, economic disparity, class disparity, gender disparity, et al. The hero must face constant adversity throughout the film, building up to a climactic showdown with his/her opposing forces and ultimate triumph. Adversity can also be found in minor subplots: Winning the romantic inclinations of another character over one of the above disparities is also a welcome obstacle, as is coming to terms with a loved one or erstwhile enemy. The denouement should be the following: operatic slow-motion followed by cheering throngs, zooming in one of the more solemn faces, gracious acceptance by the loser(s), must include music of the string-laden variety followed by a small sprinkling of piano balladry in order to squeeze some tears out of the geriatrics.

#2.) The Cast: attractive young actor/actress whose star appears to be on the rise plays the lead, cherubic facial expression a bonus. Other roles can and should be filled with pleasantly mediocre or unambitious players who won’t be clamoring for a fat paycheck. At least one character possessing one or more amusing physical detriments should provide comic relief.

Any questions? Good, because I’m not going to condescend to describe The Greatest Game Ever Played or critically assess it. What would be the point? Like everyone else with a working cerebrum, I knew exactly what the ingredients of this cinematic stew would be. I can only hope this narrative coma is signaling the death knells of Disney, because after Remember the Titans, Miracle, The Rookie, and the regrettably forthcoming Glory Road, their sports nickel has been spent. It’s all boring, manipulative sentimentality, and it’s all the same, regardless of the setting and sport of choice.

It would be a great change of pace if someone would prod the darker side of the sporting life. For instance, Greatest Game’s ending could have been dramatically altered thusly: Having spent the previous night swilling grog and copulating with Welsh prostitutes, Shia LeBeouf’s character fails astronomically in his U.S. Open playoff bid, being disqualified after hitting five consecutive triple bogies and then denting his fat little imp of a caddy’s skull with a 3-wood.

Hey, at least it would be different.

Phillip Stephens is a movie critic for Pajiba.

The Greatest Game Ever Played / Phillip Stephens

Film | May 13, 2006 |

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