It’s hard to understand the importance Texas places on the game of football unless you live here. This is especially, and perhaps dangerously true when it comes to high school football, where games are broadcast on radio and television stations, and coverage in the sports sections takes up multiple pages, every day of the week. And this is in major metropolitan areas, mind you, not just in the stereotypical single stoplight towns where there’s not much else to do on a Friday night. There’s a reason, after all, that Hollywood makes movies like “Varsity Blues” and more recently, “Friday Night Lights.”
Not to knock football, which I, like millions of other fans, freely admit is my sports-viewing drug of choice. Heck, I’ll even watch the Arena Football League to help bridge that off-season gap between the Super Bowl and the Hall of Fame Kick-Off Classic. Yet, even I am disturbed by the disproportionate importance many Texans place on a game played by mere 16-18 year-olds.
Such misplaced emphasis helps explain the existence of characters like Ricky “America” Brown (Ryan Kwanten). Ricky, a hotly recruited high school quarterback from West Texas, undoubtedly has a golden gun for an arm, which has college recruiters slavering, egged on by Ricky’s unscrupulous coach, Bo Williams (Leo Burmester). What he hasn’t developed yet, is the ability to come to terms with his older brother Daniel’s (Michael Rapaport) sudden death, which occurred during a violent brawl between the two siblings. Crushed by this devastating loss, Ricky leaves behind a note for his mother (Karen Black) and heads for New York City.
There, the troubled athlete seeks out John Cross (Hill Harper), Ricky’s predecessor at quarterback and a teammate of Daniel’s. After a series of injuries cut short John’s once-promising career, he’s now a priest who’s struggling with a secret and illicit love affair.
While Ricky’s presence seems to haunt the brooding priest, the young cowboy finds more solace in the open arms of Vera (Natasha Lyonne), a saucy waitress at a nearby diner. Together, John and Vera work to rebuild the young star’s shattered psyche and get him back on the gridiron where he belongs.
While “America Brown” is definitely about a football player, one shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming it’s a “football movie,” per se. Director Paul Black instead uses the high stakes world of high school football as a background, choosing to let Ricky’s story unfold primarily on the streets of New York and, in carefully constructed flashbacks, on a hot Texas night.
The film’s structure is off a bit, with it never being exactly clear why Ricky felt compelled to seek out John, for starters. In addition, Black dwells extensively on the B-story between John and his would-be girlfriend, Rosie (Elodie Bouchez), without ever satisfactorily resolving it.
All in all, however, “America Brown” is a decent, if flawed look at life in the football spotlight; a film that makes one wonder if it might not be time to turn down the glare a little bit.