Movie review: Melodrama trumps moral drama in ‘When the Game Stands Tall’

First Published Aug 21 2014 03:37PM      Last Updated Aug 25 2014 12:38 pm

Good intentions and narrative overkill collide in "When the Game Stands Tall," a scattershot inspirational sports drama based on the real-life story of football’s longest winning streak.

That streak, 151 games from 1992 to 2004, is held by De La Salle High School, a Catholic school in Concord, Calif., coached by Bob Ladouceur (played by Jim Caviezel). The movie, based on sportswriter Neil Hayes’ book, starts with the end of the streak in 2004 as hardships befall the team, including the shooting death of a college-bound player (Stephan James) and Ladouceur suffering a heart attack.

The script by Scott Marshall Smith, who shares story credit with David Zelon, is compelling when it focuses on the moral lessons learned by Ladouceur and his team in dealing with their first loss in 13 years. Too often, though, the story falls prey to strained melodrama, such as when a star running back (Alexander Ludwig) confronts his trophy-seeking father (Clancy Brown).

Director Thomas Carter ("Coach Carter," "Save the Last Dance") puts his stress on the football action, which packs a visceral punch with hard tackles that will put the theater’s sound system to the test.

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‘When the Game Stands Tall’

Opens Friday, Aug. 22, at theaters everywhere; rated PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking; 115 minutes.