I have a secret that I rarely share with my movie geek friends. I am a die-hard football fan. Shocking, but true. I spend every Sunday during football season glued to the set watching as many games as I can. It’s pathetic, I know. There’s something about football that I find compelling. The season is short, so every game matters, but what attracts me to football most is not so much the actual game, but the drama behind the game. Football is a violent, intense sport that will make the men both on and off the field cry. It is this behind-the-scenes drama that director Oliver Stone attempts to capture in “Any Given Sunday.” Unfortunately, he fails miserably.
The story focuses on a fictional team called the Miami Sharks and begins in the midst of a game with the potentially season ending injury of their aging star quarterback, Jack “Cap” Rooney played by Dennis Quaid. We meet coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) who is forced to replace his quarterback with unpredictable newcomer Willie Beaman (Jaimie Foxx). Coach D’Amato is getting pressure from team owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) to take more chances and get this team to win at any cost. The Miami Sharks must battle back from four straight losses to earn a place in the playoffs. (This situation sounds strangely similar to the current status of the real Miami Dolphins.) I was sincerely hoping for hilarity to ensue, but that didn’t happen. In fact, what transpires is a cliched sports movie that never really draws you in. The final playoff game results in a seemingly bizarre, and out of place, happy ending that left me asking, “Uh, what was the point of all this?” While I was hoping for a true, inside look at the inner-workings of the NFL, what Stone delivers is a trite tale supplemented by football scenes edited like a confusing music video.
Al Pacino’s career has devolved into playing intense character after intense character. Intensity seems to be the trait Pacino does best and he overuses it here more than any other recent intense Pacino performance. In fact, I would guess that one of Adam Sandler’s lesser-known characters from SNL has to be “Mr. Intensity” which must be based on Al Pacino. Jamie Foxx is fun to watch as new quarterback Willie Beaman, and he seems poised for bigger things, but under Stone’s now trademark in-your-face direction, Foxx fails to really ignite. John McGinley does a nice job as Jack Rose, the sports journalist with a goatee (a dead ringer for real sports loudmouth Jim Rome) but the rest of the performances boarder on laughable.
Perhaps the most distracting flaw is the football scenes themselves. They just did not seem real. The filmmakers create a fictional football universe populated by teams like the Miami Sharks, the New York Emperors and the Dallas Crusaders. These names sound like cheap NFL Europe teams. Even the team colors seemed garrish and unrealistic. This is a small detail, but it does become a distraction that takes one out of the action. Oliver Stone seems to be channeling Michæl Bay when it comes to the directing the action on the field. Once great directors like Stone have lost the art of telling a story through action — in this case, Stone seems to be slipping to Schumacher-like levels — it’s that bad. We see a lot of random scenes of action, a huddle, a tackle, the score is now 20-3, Miami Sharks getting their a***s kicked. Huh? (For a taste of some really good football action scenes, check out “The Longest Yard” with Burt Reynolds and the final scenes of M.A.S.H. and you will understand why Stone’s “Sunday” is such a colossal disappointment.) To top it off, all of the game action is underscored by perhaps the worst sound mix of the year with constant hip-hop and rap music. You could pull any of these scenes out of the film and play them on MTV unedited. Yes, it’s that annoying.
Ultimately, “Any Given Sunday” will disappoint football fans and won’t win any new converts to the game, and worse, is just a painful film to watch.