Out of bounds

Stone fumbles the rock in Any Given Sunday

As though banging home the extra point, D'Amato's a huge fan of Ben Hur, which unfolds in silence on his big-screen television moments before the coach delivers to Willie a speech about teamwork, the gladiators of the gridiron, and the need to sacrifice everything to win at all costs. Not long after that, the commissioner of the league appears, and he is none other than Charlton Heston. It's so shocking and so silly a casting move, you half expect every character to stop Heston, gather their friends, and scream, "Look, it's Ben Hur!" Stone, so holed up in his private world, doesn't realize how often he takes us out of the movie -- and back into the lobby.

What Stone presents is not a diatribe, but mere soap opera dolled up in a popcorn polemicist's cheap uniform. Once, the writer-director could at least generate a little controversy, a little interest; JFK, Natural Born Killers, even Nixon might well have been the deranged works of the speed-freak auteur, but at least their madness was captivating. Here, Stone offers us nothing even the most casual SportsCenter viewer doesn't already know: Sports is corrupt, yes, and so very violent, but gee whiz it's fun. Opening a week after Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth was arrested for having his girlfriend murdered -- see, real life is more entertaining and frightening than any movie -- Any Given Sunday feels awfully ill-informed, empty, fatuous.

Because of the NFL's stingy licensing policy, Stone has been forced to set his film in a fictional league, something called the Associated Football Franchises of America. Apparently, the NFL does exist (there is a quick reference to "the Sharks' crosstown rivals, the Dolphins," and Cowboys Super Bowl banners still hang from the Texas Stadium roof), but the AFFA is the dominant league. The movie's failure to connect to the real world renders it nothing but the work of pulp fantasy. He even invents the unthinkable -- the quarterback's wife (played by Lauren Holly) who wants her banged-up husband to keep playing, despite his pain. "You've got two or three more good years left in you," she tells Cap, before bitchslapping him like a good little drama queen. This thing could have been titled Plays of Our Lives.

Imagine three hours of this picture, and you have a good idea of what it's like to watch Any Given Sunday.
Imagine three hours of this picture, and you have a good idea of what it's like to watch Any Given Sunday.

Details

Starring Al Pacino, cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, LL Cool J, Matthew Modine, and Aaaron Eckhart

Release Date:
December 22

Official site

Directed by Oliver Stone

Written by Stone and John Logan; screenplay by Logan and Daniel Pyne

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It's as though Stone is remaking Platoon one more time, or showing us only the no-shit moment in Wall Street when Charlie Sheen steps out onto his balcony and utters aloud, "Who am I?" Only, he has replaced the battlefield of war and the battlefield of commerce with the good ol' chalk-marked battlefield of professional sports. And in the place of Charlie Sheen as the decent soul done in by a rotten world, he has put Jamie Foxx, doing his best Deion Sanders impression as the forces of good (Pacino) and evil (Diaz) tug upon him. This is not a subtle point: Early on, the team's preacher ends a blessing by telling the gladiators that "there are no atheists in the foxhole." Somewhere, Vince Lombardi is snoring through the gap in his teeth.

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