Sunday, October 10, 2010
The Miracle Match
When the U.S. National team advanced to the elimination round this summer in South Africa, it brought up the inevitable "Could this be the event that propels soccer into the U.S. limelight?" discussion. It comes up every two or three years with big wins or events like past his prime superstar David Beckham joining the L.A. Galaxy three years ago. So can soccer every become extremely popular in the United States? Who knows for sure. By now maybe you're guessing where I'm going with this. Looking for a way to drive possible fans away? Show them 2005's The Miracle Match, the true story of the U.S. at the 1950 World Cup.
The true story is of a 1-0 upset the United States team won over powerhouse England in the 1950 World Cup, a victory that still resonates because it was the ultimate underdog story, the ultimate team that shouldn't be there winning a huge game. It's the type of story that should translate well to a movie. Think of Rudy, Hoosiers, Miracle, The Blind Side and countless other inspirational sports movies that stick with viewers long after viewing. Well, 'Match' follows the same basic formula that made those other entries so good, but it falls flat on its face. It's so sticky sweet with these underdog Americans while shoving the U.S. patriotism down the viewer's throats that it never makes any impact at all. Potential for a winner, definitely, but that's all it is; potential.
I knew when I was in trouble almost from the get-go when an opening prologue introduces a reporter (Patrick Stewart) at the 2004 MLS All-Star game, much older now but the only U.S. reporter who even covered the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. He starts to talk adoringly about how epic the game was, how this ragtag group of amateur American players banded together, how they shocked the world. That's the whole movie. The 1950 team is treated like gods who changed the course of history. Sure, the 1-0 win over England was beyond believable, but you know what the Americans did in the other two pool play games? Lost 3-1 to Spain and 5-2 to Chile. At no point does 'Match' even mention the rest of the games or any sort of context as to what the game meant. It didn't change much at all and is a stand-alone of what sports can do. Goliath doesn't always win, but don't try and convince me this team was welcomed home like conquering heroes.
Playing actual people -- especially when they're still alive -- can be tricky so 'Match' plays it as safe as possible. Every character is from the cookie-cutter school of generic sports figures. A pre-300 Gerard Butler plays Frank Borghi, the U.S. team's very talented goalkeeper and really the only character with any sort of personality, anything of interest about him at all. Wes Bentley plays Walter Bahr, one of the greatest all-time players to play for the U.S. and a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Bentley gives little personality to the part, and it's hard to believe him as a leader of a soccer team because he doesn't even convince the viewers of his ability, much less his teammates. No one else in the cast makes much of an impression except John Rhys-Davies as national team coach Bill Jeffrey, maybe the worst portrayal of a coach I've ever seen in a movie. It looks like he's sleepwalking 90% of the time.
Now on to the soccer. Any sport can be tricky to translate to a screen because acting is one thing. Physical confrontations in a game that is almost entirely unpredictable? Downright impossible. The soccer scenes -- and there's plenty -- lack any energy, any drive. The actual World Cup game is well handled although the one goal scored comes as a bit of an anticlimax. Honestly though, the movie was lost to me long before the final 20 minutes. Director David Anspaugh supposedly had his budget cut from $65 to $27 million so the version we see is not the one he intended. I'm hard-pressed to think of much that could make this movie that much better. Pass.
The Miracle Match <---(2005): * 1/2 /****