Under the right direction, Steinmark’s story has all the right elements for a great film. 

click to enlarge DSC_5715.NEF - Bobby Campbell (Rett Terrell) and Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock) are ready to sprint against each other at their high school football practice in MY ALL AMERICAN - Date Added - 10/30/2015 6:00:00 AM - Addtl. Info - Photo credit: Van Redin/Clarius Entertainment - PHOTO CREDIT: VAN REDIN/CLARIUS
  • Photo credit: Van Redin/Clarius
  • DSC_5715.NEF Bobby Campbell (Rett Terrell) and Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock) are ready to sprint against each other at their high school football practice in MY ALL AMERICAN Date Added 10/30/2015 6:00:00 AM Addtl. Info Photo credit: Van Redin/Clarius Entertainment

By now, most audiences are familiar with the tropes and cliches of “based on a true story” sports films: scrappy underdog(s) faced with insurmountable odds.

Unfortunately, due to a massive and ever-growing catalogue of these movies, particularly ones about football, it is difficult for most new entries to make any sort of substantial impression. For every Friday Night Lights and Remember the Titans, there are nearly twice as many forgettable films like Radio and Facing the Giants.

These days, the best-case scenario is an audience treated to a solid production that, while schmaltzy, inspires and even moves them regardless of whether or not they are fans of the sport presented. The worst case is a film bogged down by overt sentimentality, self-importance and strict adherence to tired cliches. Unfortunately, My All-American falls closer to the latter.

Based on the true story of University of Texas football player Freddie Steinmark, the flick follows Steinmark (Finn Wittrock) through his high school footfall career to his time as a member of the iconic 1969 Texas Longhorns team coached by the legendary Darrell Royal (Aaron Eckhart) and culminates with the discovery of a bone tumor above his left knee, leading to the amputation of his leg up to the hip.

click to enlarge DSC_0611.NEF - Coach Royal (Aaron Eckhart) is determined to turn his team around with a rousing halftime talk during the championship game against Arkansas in MY ALL AMERICAN - Date Added - 10/30/2015 6:00:00 AM - Addtl. Info - Photo credit: Van Redin/Clarius Entertainment - VAN REDIN
  • Van Redin
  • DSC_0611.NEF Coach Royal (Aaron Eckhart) is determined to turn his team around with a rousing halftime talk during the championship game against Arkansas in MY ALL AMERICAN Date Added 10/30/2015 6:00:00 AM Addtl. Info Photo credit: Van Redin/Clarius Entertainment

His fight against cancer would lead to the National Cancer Act of 1971. Under the right direction, Steinmark’s story has all the right elements for a great film.

Without question, My All-American’s ultimate strength is its earnestness. Not a single frame of this film comes off as false or insincere.

It is commendable retelling of a truly compelling story and treats its subjects with respect. This rings true during various football game sequences, beautifully shot and edited by cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco and editor Dan Zimmerman. Unfortunately, this sincerity also leads to some of the film’s biggest problems.

Roll call

Writer and director Angelo Pizzo is no stranger to the genre, having written screenplays for two classics, Hoosiers and Rudy, so it is rather disappointing to see him deliver this lackluster work. Pizzo doesn’t just hit every cliche and trope in the book; he does so within the film’s first 30 minutes and even begins to repeat himself as it trudges on over the course of its nearly two-hour runtime.

The script is a veritable checklist of everything we’ve seen countless times before in better movies. A near faultless hero with broad traits such as trying hard and being too stubborn for his own good? Check. An equally faultless love interest tasked with supporting the protagonist? Check. A formal rival turned best friend? Check.

The list goes on, and it doesn’t stop with the characters.

There are multiple big games and speeches by both Wittrock and Eckhart. There are training montages, and clunky foreshadowing is delivered with equally clunky dialogue. At times, My All-American borders on self-parody.

The plot never feels as if it is building to anything. It focuses more on Steinmark’s football career rather than the more compelling and engaging parts of his life. His cancer diagnosis doesn’t factor into the story until about 30 minutes before final credits roll. This wouldn’t be a major issue if the sports elements were as interesting as his struggles off the field, but as presented, they are not. He faces no real issues as an athlete for the majority of the film. The audience is told that, much like Pizzo’s Rudy, Steinmark is too small, but that never becomes a major story conflict.

The cast, on the whole, is serviceable and incredibly likable in spite of being forced to deliver weak dialogue. Wittrock imbues his portrayal of Steinmark with a natural charisma and likability that elevates the movie. Eckhart also does solid work as Steinmark’s tough-but-lovable coach. Perhaps most commendable is Sarah Bolger, best known for her roles in Showtime’s The Tudors and ABC’s Once Upon a Time, who does small wonders with her relatively thankless role of Steinmark’s girlfriend.

While it is an utterly watchable addition to the sports film canon, there isn’t anything about it that sets it apart. My All-American is by no means a terrible film; it is simply incredibly cliched. 

Print headline: All-American repeat, Hollywood’s newest sports story doesn’t quite make it past the end zone.

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