Christian filmmakers, The Erwin Brothers continue their trend of inspirational stories with their seventh film American Underdog from Lionsgate. The film is a biopic of Kurt Warner (Zachary Levi), who went from a stock boy at a grocery store to a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Fame quarterback. The movie centers on Warner’s unique story and years of challenges and setbacks that could have derailed his aspirations to become an NFL player.
But just when his dreams seemed all but out of reach, it is only with the support of his wife, Brenda (Anna Paquin), and the encouragement of his family, coaches, and teammates that Warner perseveres and finds the strength to show the world the champion that he already is. American Underdog is an uplifting story demonstrating that anything is possible with faith, family, and determination.
Outside of knowing his name, I walked into American Underdog not knowing a thing about Kurt Warner. However, as a fan of biopics and the lead actor, I decided to view the film. Jon Erwin collaborates on the script for American Underdog with David Aaron Cohen and Jon Gunn, which follows the traditional sports biopic template. We meet Kurt as a child, in awe of Joe Montana before jumping to Kurt’s college career.
Attending the University of Northern Iowa, Kurt is a third-string player who doesn’t actually start until his senior year. He is best friends and roommates with Mike (Ser’Darius Blain), a fellow teammate. Before long, Kurt meets Brenda (Anna Paquin), whom he instantly falls in love with, setting the backdrop for American Underdog. While there are some high-quality football scenes in the film, the strength of American Underdog is in the love story between Kurt and Brenda.
The script treats their romance as organic, allowing both characters to show vulnerability. This angle solidifies why opposites attract. Levi and Paquin have great chemistry in the role, and you cannot help but root for them on the way to their happy ending. I was also fond of Levi’s chemistry with Ser’Darius Blain and the numerous coaches in his life. While Warner has God-given talent, there is never a moment in the film where we see Kurt as arrogant. Instead, he is a hard worker who does not want a handout but wants to earn his slot.
Football fans can rejoice in the fact that Dick Vermeil (Dennis Quaid), Mike Martz (Chance Kelly), Jim Foster (Bruce McGill), and Marshall Faulk (OJ Keith Simpson) all show up in the film as part of Kurt’s story. I was most surprised to see Ray Lewis (Nick Harris) represented on screen, who plays a significant role in the film’s climactic game. I will not spoil the game, but I am positive NFL historians know the game referenced.
While the bread and butter of filmmakers The Erwin Brothers is the Christian genre, to my surprise there are very little faith-based scenes in the film. Nevertheless though, American Underdog is a good ole fashioned crowd pleaser. Naturally, the film has clichés, but the filmmaker’s narrative structure, in addition to a winning performance by Zachary Levi; make the film worth viewing this holiday season.
Final Grade: B+
American Underdog opens in theaters today.
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