By Mark Bell | December 23, 2006

Any movie that starts with a losing college football team, a rousing locker room speech from the head coach about how “winning is everything” and then follows up with a tragic plane crash killing said head coach and his players has got my attention. The question becomes, will it keep said attention, and maintain the level of perspective it so powerfully introduces early on. Well…

We Are Movie!
“We Are Marshall” tells the tale of the Marshall University football program in 1970-71, when a tragic plane crash takes the lives of 75 members of the football players and staff. Completely depleted, with a town in shock, the university is prepared to shelve the program, but after the surviving football players protest, the program is continued. A new coach is found in Jack Lengyel (McConaughey), who convinces the one surviving assistant coach, Red Dawson (Fox), to return for one season to help out.

We Are Mourning!
Not surprisingly, after the crash the film spends a great deal of time with the town of Huntington and Marshall University as it mourns those they’ve lost. A mourning that almost winds up eliminating the football program, until the surviving Marshall football players rally the campus to chant “We Are Marshall!” outside the closed-door board meeting that’s about to vote on the issue. If you’ve seen this imagery from the trailer and thought it was how the movie ended, well, nope, it’s more how the First Act ends. After the decision to continue the program is reached, the film puts the drama aside for a while as it spins up the “sports movie cliché machine.”

We Are Montage!
The film gets points for having the first assistant and additional coach hiring montage I’ve ever seen in a sports film, so there’s a spin on the old form there. The rest of the montages, that make up the middle of the film, are strictly stereotypical and obvious. Play the classic rock of the day, recruit the players from out of town, recruit the players from other sports, practice goes bad, practice gets better, players fight, players bond… it’s montage-mania.

We Are Mediocre!
And of course, after all the recruiting, practice, bonding montagery is complete, it’s time to get the team on the field and see how they do… which is awful. In fact, it wasn’t until 1984 that Marshall put a winning team back on the field, so don’t expect the underdog-goes-all-the-way story here. This film is more about how the ball got rolling again for a town that had time stop. Does this mean they never see on-the-field success in the film? Of course not, it’s a sports flick, and it has to have an epic ending.

We Are Matthew!
The Matthews, Fox and McConaughey, bring the chops they can be expected to bring, good and bad, within their own way. McConaughey’s Jack Lengyel is an eccentric madman, and if anyone could be accused of hamming it up amid scenery chewing, it’s him. The problem with his portrayal is that he’s so over-the-top nuts that you never really get why he’s involved with the program in the first place. To help, maybe, but it comes across like a nutjob’s hobby-of-the-week.

Fox, on the other hand, delivers the brooding strength fans of “Lost” have been watching on TV for three seasons now. But there’s a problem in that, too, as you’re never given anything new to work with as an audience. Yes, this time he wasn’t in the plane crash, but you can bet he starts crying at some point (which makes me wonder, if “Lost” hadn’t come along, would I be referencing “Party of Five” right about now).

We Are McG!
McG deserves credit for delivering a passable sports film that at least does the clichés well enough so that you’re not entirely annoyed by their existence. Sure he goes to slow-motion more than my liking, and the film gets “Lord of the Rings” syndrome when it comes to finally ending (it’s over… no, now it’s over… how about…), but for a guy better known for the “Charlie’s Angels” films, it’s surprisingly subtle and proves that he’s got something more to him than tits-and-assery.

We Are Marshall!
If you’re a college football fan, a fan of sports films or just a sports aficionado with a sense of history, this film is a safe bet. Does it transcend the sports genre? Is it a classic? No, it’s just pleasant. Your life won’t be ruined by seeing the film, but your life won’t be changed for the better either. Like that first post-crash Marshall team, “We are Marshall” puts a team on the field, and that’s all that matters in the end.

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