Football for Felons

by Alan Rapp on September 15, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Gridiron Gang
  • IMDb: link

gridiron-gang-posterCamp Kilpatrick is a juvenile detention facility in sunny California, but there’s little sunny on the inside.  The facility is losing the battle against gangs.  Those sent here are overwhelmingly likely, after their release, to end up either dead on the street or spending their lives in prison.

Sean Porter (The Rock) and Malcolm Moore (Xzibit) are two counselors fighting to find a way to save more of these kids.  Porter believes creating a football program could make a difference.  As you can imagine such a program isn’t popular with his bosses (Leon Rippy, Kevin Dunn) or with the local high school coaches who are the only avaiable competition, but Porter is determined and the fighting Mustangs are born.

Those chosen for the team include gangbanger and killer Willie Weathers (Jade Yorker) whose cousin (Michael J. Pagan) was killed by a rival gang, white trash Kenny Bates (Trever O’Brien), super-sized lifetime screw-up Junior Palaita (Setu Taase), and mouthy thief Bug Wendal (Brandon Smith).

One of the strengths of the film is despite giving these kids the chance to shine and look good it never forgets that they are criminals.  The slate isn’t immediately wiped clean, but this is a first step to a better life.

The football moments of the film are well staged and shot, looking a little too perfect for high school games at times, but that’s just the nitpicker in me.  As impressive as those scenes are the real moments of the film are the quiet ones where these characters actually grow and change over the course of the film.  A movie with The Rock that includes character development?  Who would of thought!

There are a few subplots sprinkled through the film; some work better than others.  There’s Willie’s girlfriend (Jurnee Smollett) who loves him but hates his violent side and whose father (Dan Martin) wants her to stay away from gangbangers.  There’s Kenny’s relationship with his mother (Mary Mara) who has given up on him.  There’s the poor health of Porter’s mother (L. Scott Campbell).  And there’s the cheerleader program of a girls juvenlie facility (which is just too Hollywood “cute” for me).  None of these subplots are strong enough to carry the film, but the add a little flavor to the different characters and, perhaps most importantly, don’t drag the film down.

A cautionary note for parents.  Despite the film’s marketing as a feel good family friendly film, there are some elements including gang violence that would be inappropriate for younger children.  The film deserves its PG-13 rating.

There’s plenty to see here and not only enjoy but discuss with teenagers.  The film takes a serious look at the damage and effect that gangs have on our youth.  Wrapped up in a cute football package, the film is surprisingly well informed and informative, and so we get more than we expected.

Previous post:

Next post: