THE UNDERDOGGS – Review – We Are Movie Geeks



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With the “big game” (careful, the phrase “S-B” is “locked down”) only a few weeks away, do you need some movie fuel for your football “fever”? Something brand new, I should say since most gridiron fans probably have their shelves stocked with ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, THE REPLACEMENTS, and RUDY. Well, Amazon has just the thing with a raucous comedy about a ragtag bunch of preteen misfits in peewee football, coached by a guy whose heart is slowly melted by them. Sounds like a variation of last year’s football, er soccer, and adult inspired by real events comedy set in American Samoa, NEXT GOAL WINS. Yes, it’s a tried and true formula, but this flick has a twist in its casting, as the coach is played by rapper Snoop Dogg. He provides the “spark” (if you get my drift) and the inspiration for the movie’s title, THE UNDERDOGGS.

The film begins on the field as the story flashes back twenty years to the glory days of football phenom Jaycen (“Two Js”) Jennings. Then he was the star receiver for his Long Beach high school in sunny California. From there it was a quick step through college and into the NFL. Then it’s not long before he begins his descent from the “mountaintop” propelled by his hard-partying lifestyle and massive ego. After several team changes and a huge PR disaster, he’s banished to his big estate. One day JJ’s (Snoop Dogg) thwarted attempts to get his agent on the phone push him to show up at the agency’s office, which leads to a “viral” calamity that sends him to court. The judge isn’t snowed by his swagger and charm, and JJ is sentenced to 300 hours of community service. He’s sent to the the public park in Long Beach to pick up trash (the whole orange vest” pointy stick thing) and has a run-in with the foul-mouthed pre-teens that make up the local peewee football team. Just as the insults accelerate, the mother of “mouthy” quarterback Trey (Jonigan Booth) arrives to pick him up. It’s none other than JJ’s high school “bae”, Cherise (Tika Sumpter). Hmmm, maybe he can be the team’s coach as part of his “sentence” and reconnect with his now single former flame. But can he set his ego aside and become a mentor to these often inept and hapless players?

Okay, so Snoop is basically doing a “riff’ on his media (Music, TV, ads, etc.) persona, which he’s perfected over several decades, but he gives JJ a lot of dramatic depth, through his story “arc”. He’s really making an effort to engage with his co-stars, not merely projecting an ultra-cool, hip attitude. JJ really “steps Up” as a leader to the kids, and lets his guard down around the dazzling Cherise, played with spunk and good humor by the always engaging Ms. Sumpter. Only from a handful of scenes (she’s regulated to the cheering stands usually), she makes us want to learn more about Cherise’s history, maybe even see her healing the sick and injured. Happily, there’s a nice casual chemistry with Snoop making their “cautious courtship” a nifty subplot. Snoop also has a terrific comic rapport with Mike Epps as the energetic, “minor-league gangsta” Kareem, a slapstick take on the coach’s aide who just needs a “chance”. The duo is an inspired comic pairing. Much of the same can be said of George Lopez as JJ’s high school mentor, the “Jedi mind-trickin'” Coach Feiz, quietly stealing scenes with seemingly “off the cuff” quips. And what would a sports story be without an arrogant nemesis for JJ and the squad? Here it’s the motor-mouthed gadfly turned coach Chip Collins, played with smarm to spare by the weasily Andrew Schulz. What a pompous jerk worthy of a caustic comeuppance! And extra kudos to the real-life athletes and TV sports commentators who have a great time spoofing themselves.

Sports comedy vet Charles Stone III gives the familiar “against all odds” story a swift pace and infuses it with some great satiric jabs at the media, especially the online “fast to cancel” community. He’s able to squeeze some unexpected laughs from the genre tropes, even when the writers resort to grabbing giggles from trite, overused bits of kids saying wildly inappropriate things, with their parents often joining in. Folks, those BAD NEWS BEARS did it with more style nearly fifty years ago. And though we know how JJ’s moral “crisis” will resolve, Stone is still able to get some suspense and a bit of pathos from it. Ditto for the outcome of the big final act game (maybe it’s a sequel setup), which fades into a big plug for real-life charities. Speaking of plugs, it’s a shame they couldn’t have made a more subtle pitch for a real fast-food chain, instead of making it feel like a “stop the action” commercial break. Oh well, the young actors on the team aren’t cloying or annoying (although a big dangerous infraction merits no real punishment here), and most of the jokes land, so that makes for a fairly entertaining time on the field for THE UNDERDOGGS. And the final score is…

2 Out of 4

THE UNDERDOGGS streams exclusively on Amazon Prime beginning on Friday, January 26, 2024

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.