Underdogs isn’t a particularly nuanced film. It’s obvious from the film’s opening montage, that director Doug Dearth and writers David Latham and Benjamin Suarez are primarily interested in making an unabashed crowd pleaser that celebrates the importance of hard work, honesty and community by telling the fact-based story of a Ohio high school football team that beat the odds to become hometown heroes. In an age of endlessly convoluted blockbusters and morally ambiguous protagonists, some turn up their noses at such clear eyed, uncomplicated decency but a film this sweet is undeniably refreshing in a year where one of the highest grossing films of the year saw Superman resort to murder.
The film follows tough but fair coach Vince DeAntonio (D.B. Sweeney) as he tries to turn the Division 4 Saint Thomas Aquinas Knights into a team of serious contenders. As opposed to Friday Night Light’s Coach Taylor, DeAntonio isn’t much for rousing locker room speeches, he’s more of an old school taskmaster, the kind of guy who makes his boys run wind sprints after a losing game because he knows it’ll make them do better next time. Sweeney does a great job conveying the steely determination that every great coach needs and letting the same steeliness drop when pursuing a low-key romance with a local bartender (Natalie Imbrugila). His isn’t a showy performance but it has a lived in charm that is hard to deny.
In a parallel storyline, William Mapother plays a soft-spoken factory worker and aspiring inventor named Bill Burkett who risks his finances and livelihood to develop a revolutionary new type of space heater. Coincidentally, Burkett is the father of St. Aquinas’ star quarterback Bobby (Logan Huffman) and his struggle to assert his copyright against his conniving space heater magnate boss (Richard Portnow) mirrors his son’s attempts to woo cheerleader Renee (Maddie Hasson) away from her domineering boyfriend (Charlie Carver) who just happens to be the quarterback for Aquinas’ crosstown rival. At first glance, this storyline seems to needlessly draw attention away from the Knights quest to victory but Mapother’s quietly powerful performance makes his journey one of the film’s most compelling elements.
With a film titled Underdogs, there isn’t a lot suspense about whether or not the scrappy kids from the working class part of town will beat the snotty rich kids in the big game at the end of the movie. But plot twists aren’t the draw for adapted from a true story movies like these, it’s about reaffirming that sometimes the good guys do win and that they can keep their hands clean doing it. It works as a reminder that even in Ohio, it’s possible for some hometown boys to do the impossible and pull off a win at the last second. Underdogs is a movie that you watch on those cold winter days when it seems like the Browns’ can’t complete a pass to save their lives to remind yourself that the potential for greatness lies in all of us.
Mario McKellop has written about film on Examiner for the last three years and can be reached directly at email@example.com.