Here is one man’s opinion on the most overrated and underrated sports movies. My opinion happens to be right, though. By the way, these aren’t my “best” and “worst” sports movies, just those that merit a little re-evaluation.
I know, The Big Lebowski is pop culture’s go-to bowling movie, and for good reason. But Kingpin is an underrated gem, the Farrelley brothers at their infantile best. Woody Harrelson exudes cigarette smoke and bad cologne as one-handed down-on-his-luck bowler Roy Munson; a pre-crazy Randy Quaid is solid as Ishmael the Amish farmer/bowler (the sight of Quaid perched on a urinal reading a paper is worth the Red Box rental alone); but Bill Murray walks off with the movie as Munson’s nemesis, Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken. Big Ern’s flyaway combover deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination of its own.
Roy: “How about a gross of fluorescent condoms for the novelty machine in the men's room? I mean, those are fun even when you're alone. We're talkin' the hula hoop of the nineties.”
Big Ern: “It all comes down to this roll. Roy Munson, a man-child, with a dream to topple bowling giant Ernie McCracken. If he strikes, he's the 1979 Odor-Eaters Champion. He's got one foot in the frying pan and one in the pressure cooker. Believe me, as a bowler, I know that right about now, your bladder feels like an overstuffed vacuum cleaner bag and your butt is kinda like an about-to-explode bratwurst.”
Roy: (On smoking) “Who's done more research than the good people at the American Tobacco Industry? They say it’s harmless. Why would they lie? If you're dead, you can't smoke.”
White Men Can’t Jump
Director Ron Shelton can shoot sports action like no one else. The basketball scenes in “White Men” pulsate and move like jazz, and the in-game trash talk captures the bravado of the playground. My only quibble: The two leads aren’t quite good enough hoopsters to carry the movie as convincing hustlers. If this were real life, Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes wouldn’t have made it out of the first round of the first annual Two-On-Two For Brotherhood Basketball Tournament.
Sydney: “Oh man, shut your anorexic malnutrition tapeworm-having overdose on Dick Gregory Bahamian diet-drinking ass up. Leave me alone!”
Billy: “I'll tell you what. Why don't we take all these bricks and build a shelter for the homeless, so maybe your mother will have a place to stay. I want your mother and sister out of my house immediately!”
Billy: “You got that Z in your 'fro! Hey man, what are you, the Black Zorro?”
Another underrated Ron Shelton gem. The 18th-hole meltdown that ends the movie (spoiler alert) seems far-fetched, but it’s supposedly based on a real event from the career of Gary McCord, who consulted on the film. Shelton deftly captures golf’s ego-driven competitive vibe, its class consciousness, its elusiveness and its philosophical underpinnings. Not easy to pull off. Kevin Costner often sucks, but he’s never been better than he is in this movie, and he’s a reasonably convincing golfer, too. Better than Matt Damon in Bagger Vance, anyway.
Roy: “This is for Venturi, who thinks I should lay up.”
Romeo: “What does he know? He only won this tournament before you were born.”
Roy: “The critical opening phrase of this poem will always be the grip. Which the hands unite to form a single unit by the simple overlap of the little finger. Lowly and slowly the clubhead is led back. Pulled into position not by the hands, but by the body, which turns away from the target shifting weight to the right side without shifting balance. Tempo is everything; perfection unobtainable as the body coils down at the top of the swing. There’s a slight hesitation. A little nod to the gods.”
Not enough people remember this 1971 classic, which may be the greatest TV movie ever made and is certainly the greatest sports tearjerker of all time. James Caan, Billy Dee Williams and that haunting music reduced grown men across America to whimpering, sniveling little boys. Williams’ portrayal of Gale Sayers was the pinnacle of his career, over even Lando Calrissian and the Colt 45 commercials.
Narrator: “Ernest Hemingway once said, ‘Every true story ends in death.’ Well, this is a true story.”
Sayers: “I love Brian Piccolo. And I'd like all of you to love him too. And so tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him.”
All the Right Moves
Gets points deducted for Tom Cruise no longer being believable as a tough, hard-nosed, steel-town football player after all these years of Scientology and general flamboyance. But all in all, this movie captures the quiet desperation of life in a decaying small town and the importance of high school football — and more specifically, the high school football coach — to the players and the townspeople. I’ll give you a million dollars if you can remember Cruise’s character’s name. Give up? Stefen “Stef” Djordjevic.
“You're not God, Nickerson. You're just a typing teacher.”
“If you would've had Rifleman hold the ball, then we would've won the game. We didn't quit. You quit!”
I know this movie is beloved for its reverent treatment of the national pastime and the humor, nuances and poignancy of baseball in its purest form, but to me, it doesn’t really work. Call me old-fashioned, but watching an aging, jock-sniffing skank troll for trophy studs isn’t all that entertaining, even if said skank is a well-preserved Susan Sarandon. Oh, and that Crash Davis speech about believing in “long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days”? Nobody talks like that, except for self-satisfied screenwriters.
This movie doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a sports movie? A rom-com? A meditation on race relations? An indictment of modern sports culture? It aspires to all of the above, but it does them all poorly. Its most famous lines are either gag-inducing (“You complete me.” “You had me at hello.”) or ridiculously overplayed (“Show me the money!”) Seriously? Show me the remote. And that supposedly adorable kid? About as charming as a pubic louse. Plus, Renee Zellweger squints too much, like a grapefruit exploded in her eyes. The movie does get points, though, for the cameo by Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains.
Million Dollar Baby
I strongly dislike this movie, but not for the primary reason cited by its detractors (its seemingly pro-euthanasia stance). No, I hate the clichéd narration, Hilary Swank’s affected Missouri drawl, her painfully stereotypical white trash family, the ridiculous and embarrassing supporting character of Danger — actually, there’s little that I don’t hate about this Best Picture winner, except that Morgan Freeman finally won a long overdue Oscar, too.
Field of Dreams
Considered a classic by most, it hasn’t aged all that well. I cried when I first saw it; now I sorta cringe in places, like James Earl Jones’ speech about baseball and America. Not even the voice of Darth Vader can salvage that cornball sermon.
The Color of Money
Not a bad movie, but when Martin Scorsese and Paul Newman are atop the marquee, you expect greatness. Newman won the Oscar for his second portrayal of Fast Eddie Felson, but at that point, it was more of a lifetime achievement award. Tom Cruise tries too hard in the supporting role of Vincent Lauria, Fast Eddie’s protégé, and the movie’s hurt by the fact that it’s a sequel to a vastly superior film, The Hustler. Also — no Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats this time.