Champions – movie review

In director Bobby Farrelly’s Champions, Marcus (Woody Harrelson) is a basketball coach who dreams of a big future in the NBA. The problem is he has no filter. He says what he thinks, when he wants and doesn’t hold back. So he’s lost several jobs in the US and abroad. Now he’s an assistant to head coach Phil Perretti (Ernie Hudson), a friend since their college days. During a game, Marcus vehemently disagrees with some of Perretti’s calls and soon enough the angst turns physical. If that isn’t bad enough, he’s soon also facing a drink driving charge that could see him imprisoned. So he reluctantly accepts a community corrections order that sees him coaching a team of players with developmental impairments.

After a less than promising start, he just wants to do his time and get out. The team’s best player refuses to play for him. Another only throws the ball over his head and hasn’t even managed to hit the backboard yet, let alone score any points. A third bails frequently because he has a hard-ass boss at work. Among the unexpected issues to emerge is that one team member turns out to be the brother of a woman, Alex (Kaitlin Olson), with whom Marcus had a one-night stand that didn’t end well.

Still, Marcus warms to his new, temporary role, while members of the team come to appreciate him. As a result, a new opportunity emerges that will leave Marcus with an important decision to make.

Based on the 2018 Spanish film Campeones, Champions is a feel-good comedy, with dramatic flourishes. Mark Rizzo, who has a TV background, provides the screenplay. Although largely predictable, it dishes up some fun one liners and physical humour. Much of the joy comes from the performances. Harrelson is a skilled exponent of his craft and is an ideal choice to play the flawed “hero”. He’s a natural and revels in the banter that’s critical to his character.

I also enjoyed the feisty quality of Kaitlin Olson brings to Alex; and the openness and cheek of Barbara Pollard as her mother, Dot. Madison Tevlin brings a strong attitude to the only girl on the team, Cosentino. Cheech Marin (of Cheech and Chong fame) has an easy-going guise in his representation of youth centre coordinator Julio.

The underdog team sports genre has been well trawled (think The Mighty Ducks and Cool Runnings for starters) and Farrelly sticks to the formula. Champions plays for laughs and gets them.

Alex First

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