Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
Champions follows Marcus (Woody Harrelson), a minor-league basketball coach, who after having a physical altercation on the court with the head coach of the team, finds himself without a job. One night, after drowning his sorrows in a local bar, he gets behind the wheel of a car and crashes into a parked police cruiser. He’s warned by his Attorney McGurk (an unrecognizable Mike Smith who played Bubbles in The Trailer Park Boys) that the judge assigned to his case is as tough as they get, but she gives him a choice: time in prison or community service. Marcus agrees to the latter and becomes the coach for a basketball team of players with intellectual disabilities who have the shot to make it all the way to the Special Olympics.
Director Bobby Farrelly brings this heartwarming story to the screen with comedic flair. His main strength is getting this outstanding Cast. As always, Harrelson is charismatic and softens the more out-of-date belief system Marcus early on in the Film. Allowing us to still want to root for him even when he uses derogatory terms for his teammates. These brief moments cause discomfort but are handled carefully by Farrelly and Screenwriters Mark Rizzo, Javier Fesser and David Marques. Their intention is to use these moments as a way to educate audience members on their possible ignorance.
It’s really the Supporting Players on the team that steal centre court. Each player gets their own time in the spotlight, thanks to the Screenwriters who care about each character. We get to learn about each of them, their interests, dislikes, and their lives on and off the court. Kevin Iannucci, who plays Johnny, is outstanding and exudes so much heart. He has effortless chemistry with Harrelson and steals each scene he shares with the legend. Then there’s Madison Tevlin who plays Cosentino. From the moment she steps on the screen, we are enamoured by her performance. Cosentino’s a straight-shooter who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and gets down to business.
Champions thrives when it’s centred on the team members, whether they are on or off the court. We are enthralled by the underdog story and the characters themselves. So when the narrative derives into a love story between Marcus and Alex (a strong Kaitlin Olson), who is Johnny’s sister, the focus wanes. This storyline is enjoyable, Harrelson and Olson share a vibrant chemistry, however, this romantic storyline feels like a distraction from the film’s main heartbeat — the players.
Overall, Champions showcases an underdog story, although formulaic, that audiences will leave the theatre feeling uplifted by. It also boasts stellar performances from the entire team.
Focus Features release CHAMPIONS on Friday, March 10, 2023.
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