- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 1999

One of the more entertaining monstrosities in recent memory, "Any Given Sunday" appears to be an Oliver Stone Christmas present to himself: a raucous, bombastic, equivocal love song to professional football.
Evidently a cherished pastime since boyhood, the pro game proves to be as overstimulating and hallucinatory a subject for this bundle of cinematic aggression as the Vietnam War or the Kennedy assassination.
Mr. Stone even gives himself a catbird-seat minor role: as an overstimulated television commentator for the apocryphal team whose late-season miseries and comebacks are savored and belabored for almost three hours, the Miami Sharks of the Associated Franchises of America.
It remains to be seen whether a national mass audience will be in an instantly receptive mood, but a bumper crop of titillation, hokum and game-day exploits waits to overwhelm potential customers.
The most appropriate title might be "Oliver Stone's Tumult and Shouting." At the same time, "Sunday" flatters his peculiar set of talents and defects. Always a dynamic glorification of sports' cliches, this movie contrives to look systematically gaudy and visceral while sounding fashionably profane and wised-up.
Nevertheless, it dotes on aspects of masculine exertion, sacrifice and athletic camaraderie that are as old-fashioned as any attributes venerated in "Knute Rockne, All-American."
The crucial character test, for example, demands that Jamie Foxx as third-string quarterback Willie Beamen suddenly elevated by an injury to aging star Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid) and the ineptitude of an expendable backup accept the burden of leadership with appropriate humility.
Resentful about real or imagined slights to his athletic promise in the past, Beamen would prefer to make up for lost time by emerging as an opportunistic glory hound. His free-lancing impulses cause immediate pecking-order problems with an offensive mainstay, running back Julian Washington (LL Cool J).
Both head coach Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino) and battered middle linebacker Luther "Shark" Lavay (Lawrence Taylor) are enlisted to hammer Beamen rhetorically until the message sinks in.
Similarities with the Washington Redskins may reinforce the entertainment value of the movie's front-office subplot. Fictional coach D'Amato must weather hassles with a demanding, dishy owner called Christina Pagniacci, an overcompensating daddy's girl smartly impersonated by Cameron Diaz.
Intent on proving herself as a boss lady, Christina, who inherited the Sharks from her late papa, gives the weary, cagey D'Amato an extremely hard time. A fourth consecutive loss leaves the club, champions a few seasons earlier, with fading playoff prospects; Christina has a successor waiting to replace D'Amato.
The sideshows include James Woods as a cynical team doctor who has become cavalier about downplaying injuries that border on permanent calamity. John C. McGinley is reliably amusing as a pompous, scorned sports journalist, the host of an ESPN-style interview show that permits him maximum smarminess.
Elizabeth Berkley of "Showgirls" makes a picturesque comeback as Mandy, the most prominent hooker in successive waves of groupie sightings. Indeed, prostitution is flaunted as the most conspicuous perk of the mass-media sports culture (and gravy train) that Mr. Stone urges spectators to ogle and kind of envy.
Despite token nods to conventional domesticity and loyalty, he prefers to identify with the susceptibilities of lonely athletic titans or masterminds whose amorous needs are best left to the Mandys of the world. Indeed, "Any Given Sunday" would be wittier if she kept turning up in Coach D'Amato's bed after every bad day he suffers.
Mr. Stone deals rather harshly with uppity women. Lauren Holly, cast as Mr. Quaid's spouse, turns into a shrew with no warning to provide a last-act shock effect. Miss Diaz's domineering tendencies are unnatural and undesirable. Mr. Stone suggests that the leading lady would be happier emulating her mother, played by Ann-Margret, who has found serenity with booze and pet pooches.
Vintage fans of the National Football League should welcome Jim Brown in a supporting role as the Sharks' defensive coordinator, plus contemporaries such as Y.A. Tittle, Dick Butkus and Johnny Unitas as opposing coaches. There's a peerlessly delirious sequence in which Mr. Stone borrows excerpts from "Ben-Hur," specifically the galley episodes and the chariot race, to muddle a contentious meeting between Mr. Pacino and Mr. Foxx.
The absence of explicit allusions to "Spartacus" is mystifying. However, it's fun when Charlton Heston himself makes a bit appearance as the commissioner of the Associated Franchises, inserted to help put Christina in her place.

Movies / Gary Arnold

Two and 1/2 stars.
TITLE: "Any Given Sunday"
RATING: R (Frequent profanity and comic vulgarity; graphic violence in the context of professional football games; occasional nudity, sexual candor and sexual vulgarity
CREDITS: Directed by Oliver Stone
RUNNING TIME: About 170 minutes

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