Gang Warfare on the Gridiron
Based on a true story, "Gridiron Gang" is your basic uplifting, inspirational sports movie in which a group of young men, inmates of a juvenile detention centre, are taught new virtues of team work to replace those of violence, warfare and gang rivalries. It's enjoyable, entertaining and will feature in a few lists of inspirational movies but in essence "Gridiron Gang" doesn't stray far from the fold, the formula established by other similar inspirational sports based movies.
Sean Porter (Dwayne Johnson - Get Smart), a social worker at a juvenile detention centre, witnesses the lack of hope for the young kids serving time for various gang crimes. Alongside fellow social worker Malcolm Moore (Xzibit - 8 Mile) they set about trying to instil hope into their young wards by forming the Kilpatrick Mustangs, an American football team open to inmates of the centre. Despite a lack of support from his superiors and a general sense of apathy amongst the youths, Sean sets about knocking them into shape for their opening match of the season and in doing so sets about also instilling them with a winning attitude and a belief that outside of the centre they do not need to return to their violent ways.
I would love to say that "Gridiron Gang" differs from the various other inspirational sports movies such as "Remember the Titans" but in essence it's the same. Take away the location and the names and you are left with the same old inspiration story of a coach who instils discipline and self belief into his team. In fact "Gridiron Gang" adds nothing in the least bit new to the well worked formula and the only thing stopping it falling into mediocrity is that when you do get to the end of the movie it does leave you with a feeling off being inspired. Job done, it's an inspirational sports movie and it inspires.
Well actually "Gridiron Gang" does have another saving grace, which is in the gang rivalry which causes these young men to find themselves in the juvenile detention centre. One thing which usually spoils these movies is the unwillingness to show the rawness of the situation, preferring to concentrate on the uplifting, inspirational elements. But in "Gridiron Gang" the focus is as much on the reasons why these kids feel the need to be loyal gang members and commit crimes as it is on instilling them with fresh hope for a better life. Director Phil Joanou punctuates the proceedings with moments of rawness just at the right moment so it stops "Gridiron Gang" feeling like another fairytale story.
You would think that wrestlers would be good at acting having already plied the trade in the ring for years, but often is the case that the transition from ring to big screen is too much for them. But in Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson there is something different, here in his portrayal of Sean Porter he shows ability for honest drama rather than just over the top flamboyance. Yes he may not be a brilliant actor, yet, but in being likeable as well as capable of a range of emotions he delivers a slightly cliche but decent performance. I would say his performance is one of the reasons to watch "Gridiron Gang" and causes Xzibit's portrayal of Malcolm Moore to come over as a second rate side kick. Sorry Xzibit but you just didn't do it for me in "Gridiron Gang".
As is often the case "Gridiron Gang" does at times come over to obvious in it's manipulation of your emotions. The emphasis of the movie is to become attached to these young men and at times you feel like you are having your arm wrenched behind your back to get you there. But despite this "Gridiron Gang" is a reasonable if not slightly predictable movie.
What this all boils down to is that don't expect "Gridiron Gang" to really impassion you to go out and make a difference for too long after watching it and I doubt you will remember too many of the scenes that long afterwards either. But it is enjoyable, it does make you feel inspired, well for a little while, and it proves that if Dwayne Johnson takes on more serious roles he will turn into a fine actor rather than just an action figure.