Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Clichés don’t hinder Champions from being a crowd pleasing winner

Woody Harrelson returns to the world of basketball for director Bobby Farrelly in Champions from Focus Features. Mark Rizzo pens the film’s screenplay, a remake of the 2018 Spanish film of the same name. Marcus (Harrelson) is a washed-up basketball player turned assistant coach passing the time with a D-League in Des Monies. Brash and arrogant, he ends up assaulting his Coach, Phil Petretti (Ernie Hudson), a former team who got Marcus a job with him.

After a night of drunken debauchery, Marcus winds up spending the night in jail and has to see a judge. When his charms fail to impress the judge, the former minor-league basketball coach can choose either eighteen months in prison or ninety days of community service. 

Deciding to take the court to manage a team of players with intellectual disabilities, Marcus has no idea what he’s in for. Despite his doubts and with the encouragement of the rec center Julio (Cheech Marin), he soon realizes that together they can go further than they ever imagined.

Bobby Farrelly is one half of directing duo The Farrelly Brothers, who directed three of the best comedies of the nineties. His brother Peter recently took a break from the comedy genre to direct two true dramatic stories, one of which was 2018’s Best Picture Oscar Winner, Green Book. I was interested to see what Bobby would bring to the table for his solo directorial debut.

For the most part, Farrelly follows the template of underdog sports movies. We meet the players, who include Cosentino (Madison Tevlin), Johnny (Kevin Iannucci), Cody (Ashton Gubbing), and Craig (Matthew Von Der Ahe). There’s a super-talented player, Darius (Joshua Felder), who is reluctant to join the team, and Marcus will form a romance with Alex (Katlin Olson), the sister of one of the players. The players on the team all get a chance to shine with the delivery of one-liners and engage in banter with the coach.

One of the things I want to commend the film on is using actors who have down syndrome. This decision added authenticity to the film. We get to witness the folks doing everyday things and enjoying life’s beauty. The moments in the movie where someone tries to bring up the team’s disabilities are handled with class. Regarding the acting, Harrelson can do a role like this in his sleep. He delivers exactly what you would expect performance-wise. At the same time, Katlin Olson and Cheech Marin tone down their usual comedy stylings to provide somewhat subdued performances. 

Audiences will know precisely where Champions is going with its narrative structure, which is fine. There’s nothing with clichés when the message is in the right place.


Final Grade: B

Champions opens in theaters Friday, March 10th.

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