By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
I am a HUGE Rams fan. Have been since the days of Deacon Jones, Hacksaw Reynolds, Merlin Olsen, and Jack Youngblood. I’ve seen some exciting and great games over the years and many more that have been absolutely maddening.
Although the Rams, were in St. Louis when they beat the Tennessee Titans to win Super Bowl XXXIV (January 30, 2000), they were still my
Los Angeles Rams. Plus, every Rams fan loved the “Greatest Show on Turf” that was led by Kurt “The Comeback Kid” Warner.
So, I’m thrilled that Warner’s remarkable story, “American Underdog”
is now on the big screen.
Directed by brothers Jon and Andy Erwin (“I Can Only Imagine” and “I Still Believe”) and co-written by Jon Erwin, David Aaron Cohen, and Jon Gunn, “American Underdog” is a must-see movie especially for those who bleed blue and gold.
The inspirational and faith-based sports drama is based on Warner’s and Michael Silver's book “All Things Possible: My Story of Faith, Football, and the First Miracle Season.”
In “American Underdog,” a perfectly cast Zachary Levi (“Shazam!”) stars as Warner, the guy who rose from being a grocery store clerk in Cedar Falls, Iowa to a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Fame quarterback.
However, Warner was no overnight sensation. In fact, he traveled a rocky road filled with plenty of heartache and struggle before getting his big break in the NFL.
His unwavering Christian faith helped him overcome many hardships. So did the support from his mother Sue (Cindy Hogan, TV’s “The Haves and The Have Nots”)--his father abandoned him and his brother when they were kids—his UNI teammate/friend, Mike Hudnutt (Ser’ Darius Blain, “Jumanji”), and an attractive woman named Brenda (a terrific Anna Paquin, “The Irishman” and TV’s “True Blood”) that he met at a local, country music bar.
When we first see Warner it’s as a young football loving kid (Beau Hart, “Doom Patrol”). He’s watching footage of great quarterbacks like Joe Montana and throwing precision passes in his backyard. Years later (1990s) Warner is quarterbacking at the University of Northern Iowa. But the small school and his talents don’t make him front and center in the NFL draft. He was overlooked and forgotten.
After graduating from UNI, it appeared as if his pro football dreams would still come true when he is recruited by the Green Bay Packers. However, Warner went into the scrimmage totally unprepared for that big moment and consequently was cut from the team even before he could break a sweat. His life begins to spiral out of control and the once confident football player is doubting himself.
Much of “American Underdog” centers around Brenda and Warner’s budding relationship and each wondering if they can let go of their pasts and build something together. Brenda, a former U.S. Marine is tough and resilient. She’s divorced with two kids and lives with her parents. Her adorable 7-year-old blind son Zack (a terrific debut from Hayden Zaller who is actually blind in real life) keeps her busy as she tries to find work and considers going to nursing school.
Brenda questions why Warner would want to be a part of her topsy turvy world, but he does and he immediately bonds with Zack when they meet.
This is the real heart of “American Underdog” and these moments resonate with such authenticity that you’re rooting early on for everything to work out for these two and are crushed as much as they are when they don’t.
Warner realizes time is ticking and he has to do something. He reluctantly listens to the pitch from Jim Foster (an excellent Bruce McGill, TV’s “Reacher”), the owner of the American Football League's Iowa Barnstormers arena football team.
Warner's pride almost prevents him from signing with the team, but he agrees. As luck would have it, Warner leads the Barnstormers to the league championships and his winning ways catches the eye of a recruiter for the NFL's St. Louis Rams.
Here we go.
St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil (an excellent Dennis Quaid, “The Intruder” and upcoming “Reagan”) saw something special in Warner, but still had reservations about him. It took some prodding by offensive coordinator Mike Martz (Chance Kelly, TV’s “Billions”) to convince him that Warner could answer the call.
When QB Trent Green injured his knee in 1999 and Warner stepped in, he convincingly proved to everyone that he belonged in the league. The rest as they say is history.
“American Underdog” is an excellent and heartwarming story. It’s message of overcoming obstacles through courage, faith and perseverance is one that we should all embrace.
Be sure to catch my N2Entertainment.net movie talk segment on the Kitty O'Neal Show Fridays at 6:20 p.m. on radio station KFBK 93.1 FM and 1530 AM.
Watch This Trailer For "AMERICAN UNDERDOG"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The American Film Institute (AFI), and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.