American Underdog is a Kurt Warner biopic, revolving around his beginnings, and his story through Super Bowl XXXIV. If you’re unsure who Kurt Warner is, this movie will showcase who he is, while moderating some of the very things people know him for.
American Underdog stars Zachary Levi as Kurt Warner, Anna Paquin as Brenda Warner, and Dennis Quaid as Dick Vermeil, and boy are those on-the-nose castings. All three pull off very close looks to the people they portray. Though if I had to call attention to anything, it would be Levi and Paquin. They constantly feel like they’re too old for the roles. Levi is currently 41, and he’s trying to pull off an age range of 21-29. Similarly, Paquin is 39, and working to pull off 25-34, so she has an easier time of it. This is not to say they don’t do fantastic work, as their chemistry is one of the best parts. But the makeup choices were horrendous.
One of the main focal points of the Warners’ lives is their focus on their relationship with Christ. And yes, it plays a role in American Underdog. Sure, it’s probably not talked about enough for the ones who have appreciated Warner’s commitment to putting Christ first in everything he does. However, the film strikes a good balance towards still keeping it a part of the story without alienating the viewers solely present for his football story.
In regards to the screenplay, writers Jon Erwin, Jon Guinn, and David Aaron Cohen manage to tell the story succinctly. They hit the highs and lows of Brenda and Kurt’s relationship perfectly while integrating football action sequences to keep the audience in their seats. Despite this fact, there’s not enough attention put in to show how Kurt really changes on screen. Levi brings out a full-fledged dramatic performance that is a breath of fresh air compared to his comedic acting in projects like Shazam!. The script just doesn’t fully allow Warner’s character beyond the game of football to come to light. There are a few scenes where it tries, but they’re cut short.
One of the best things in this movie is the Warner family. I cannot reiterate enough just how much chemistry Paquin and Levi have on-screen together. It’s truly magnificent work pairing the two together. But the scenes with Zack (Hayden Zaller) and Warner were truly some of the best character work in the film. A couple of moments in American Underdog had my whole theater tearing up.
In terms of directing, I really enjoyed the work the Erwin brothers put into the usage of archival footage. The transitions between the film and the footage hit a strong balance. Where it frustrated me was at certain emotional points in which they seemed to only want to use close-ups of the actors. They kept cutting back and forth between the two. It certainly would have helped to see some movement between the two characters. Not them just staring at a double.
Something that’s really hard to get past in all sports-related films is the theme of the underdog or the player that’s always special. This movie doesn’t showcase one moment that made Kurt Warner a great football player, champion, husband, father. It showcases the learning experiences that as a result, molded him to be who he is, in all cases. What makes American Underdog good is that it’s a true, improbable story. What makes it special is it brings together empathetic characters and sports better than its competition. – Katie Rentschler
American Underdog is in theaters everywhere on December 25th.
The film stars Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin, and Dennis Quaid.