By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
Stone, ever the conspiracy theorist with the MTV attention span, attempts to discuss and dissect all the Big Issues surrounding pro football: escalating TV revenue, aging veteran players, the way medicine turns a blind eye to injury when the Big Game is on the line, general managers who overrule coaches, suck-up sportswriters, the scarcity of black head coaches and owners, and on and on. But he has made what amounts to a Playstation football game based on the Cliffs Notes of ex-Cowboy Peter Gent's North Dallas Forty. He touches on each topic, yes, but like a junior-high essayist, he can't find the words to make his own point, so instead he filches those of others who have come before him. He throws out iconic names -- Y.A. Tittle, Sammy Baugh, Lombardi, etc. -- like someone who came across them in an NFL history book. Only he offers no context; he merely rants when good ol' storytelling would have well served his purpose.
Each character in Any Given Sunday can be reduced to the most banal characterization; think high concept and lowbrow execution. There's the aging coach (Al Pacino) of the Miami Sharks who can't keep up with the modern game, the veteran quarterback (Dennis Quaid) too proud and frightened to quit despite myriad injuries, the hotshot third-string QB (Jamie Foxx) who gets his shot in the bigs and becomes the instant egomaniacal superstar, the general manager (Cameron Diaz) who wants to prove she's not just Daddy's little girl, the team physician (James Woods) who would rather inject a player with the needle and risk injury or even death than pull him from the lineup. So it goes, until Stone all but runs out of stock characters and begins yanking them from old tapes. At one point, a Tom Landry look-alike is seen strolling the opponent's sidelines, as though God's Coach himself were back in the game. The moment elicits nothing but chuckles, though ex-Cowboys coach Barry Switzer's cameo as a TV commentator (he's partnered with none other than Stone himself) drew the biggest laughs at a recent local screening.
Written by Stone and John Logan; screenplay by Logan and Daniel Pyne
God only knows what Stone's ransom-note scripts read like; likely, they are nothing but long speeches punctuated by instructions to "Insert Rap Song Here." The movie, like much of Stone's recent work (save, perhaps, the dreary U-Turn) never takes a breath, except when it lapses into slow-motion, sound effects included; Stone thinks he's the first director to turn a player's growl into a lion's roar. He begins with a football game, ends with another (a playoff game against the Dallas Knights in a Texas Stadium that has been made to look like a setting from David Zucker's South Park-on-sports BASEketball), and crams the middle two hours with speech after speech. After a while, Pacino's coach Tony D'Amato begins to resemble a drunken street-corner prophet, ranting about how it's not whether you win or lose, but whether you can do both like a man. More often, his speeches are indecipherable gibberish; clearly, he's the Stone stand-in, the beleaguered voice of reason trying to say everything in a single hoarse breath.
Any Given Sunday makes HBO's long-gone football series 1st & Ten look like the stuff of gritty documentary; the only difference is, in place of 1st & Ten regular O.J. Simpson, Stone has rounded up his own ringers, namely Jim Brown as the defensive line coach and ex-New York Giant Lawrence Taylor as the old-timer on the line who's one play away from sudden death. The casting of L.T. is rather cagey; the tormented Hall of Famer, disgraced by so many drug problems, brings more baggage to this movie than a skycap at Christmas. Stone cannily turns the tables by making L.T. the voice of reason: At one point, Taylor, playing Luther "Shark" Lavay, tells Foxx's young QB Willie Beaman that when "a man looks back at his life, he should be proud of all of it." He delivers the line like someone who is not.
For a film about pro football, Any Given Sunday feels awfully minor-league. Stone attempts to exaggerate the ferocity of the game -- to make us feel each hit -- by placing us in the helmet of each player; he wants us to bear witness not to the game itself, but to the crippling pain wrought by each completed pass or three-yard dash. From the perspective of quarterback Jack "Cap" Rooney (Quaid), we see only blurs of players, distorted patterns instead of real people; from the perspective of linemen, we see bloodshot eyes and bared fangs. One game takes place in a downpour, rain drenching every player beneath dim lights -- as though the stadium were lit by a handful of crowd members holding flashlights.
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