American Underdog (CREDIT: Michael Kubeisy/Lionsgate)

Starring: Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin, Dennis Quaid, Chance Kelly, Cindy Hogan, Ser’Darius Blain, Adam Baldwin, Bruce McGill, Hayden Zaller

Directors: Andrew and Jon Erwin

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: PG for Mild Adult Situations

Release Date: December 25, 2021 (Theaters)

Is American Underdog The Great Evangelical Christian Movie we’ve all been waiting for? Not quite, but it does promise a decent amount of inspiration. Plenty of professional athletes have attributed their success to God, and Kurt Warner is one of the most successful to ever do so. He was named Super Bowl MVP in 2001 and eventually made his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he took a uniquely circuitous path to the big time. He went undrafted out of a college that’s not exactly known for producing NFL talent, got a job stocking grocery shelves just to get by, and then tried at hand arena football just as his dreams were starting to slip away for good. That’s when he landed on the radar of the St. Louis Rams, a struggling franchise willing to take a chance on a guy that everyone else had written off as too old to be a rookie. And even after all that, he was still just a backup. But not for long, as the Rams’ starting quarterback got injured in a preseason game.

You might think it would be a little odd seeing 41-year-old Zachary Levi playing Warner throughout his twenties, but fortunately Shazam! did us the favor of establishing his overgrown kid bona fides. Besides, world-class athletes are often so physically imposing and metaphorically larger-than-life that they can easily appear to be ten years older than they actually are. So Levi sells that part of the role, but what about the Christianity aspect? I certainly believe that Warner lives his life dedicated to God and that he became especially committed to his faith when he meets divorced mother of two Brenda (Anna Paquin). But does that aspect of his life make for an interesting movie? I’ll say this: it could’ve been more interesting. There are some hints at internal existential struggles, particularly when Brenda’s parents die in a tornado. But we never feel the full weight of how the Warners can reconcile a merciful god with a cruel world. We just kind of learn that they in fact do do that.

But what about the football? It’s not hard to make the career of Kurt Warner exciting. His years with the Rams were nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf,” and they certainly featured some of the most dynamic offensive playmaking in the history of the NFL. I love touchdowns much more than I love concussion-causing tackles, so I’m reasonably happy with a highlight reel of this nature. But does American Underdog say anything that the real licensed game footage doesn’t already say? As with the Christianity, the answer is a resounding … “maybe”? There’s a running theme about how Kurt is resistant to the strictures imposed by his coaches. Did he possibly revolutionize football by scrambling out of the so-called “pocket” and thereby opening up the game to untold possibilities? Perhaps! The movie doesn’t really give us a definitive answer either way.

Oh well, at least there’s Dennis Quaid really enjoying himself (and relishing a chicken sandwich when we first meet him) as Rams coach Dick Vermeil, who’s in his sixties during the film’s events but even more of an overgrown kid than everyone else. Maybe American Underdog should have just been a Warner-Vermeil buddy comedy – and not even necessarily primarily about football! Just spitballing, but perhaps they could solve pigskin-related crimes in the St. Louis area. Billion dollar idea here for the taking, folks.

American Underdog is Recommended If You Like: Real life sports footage mixed with fake movie scenes, Inspirational kids with disabilities, Honky tonk bars

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Touchdowns