- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2005

LOS ANGELES - Whether you’re into baseball, football, boxing, basketball, horses, soccer, bowling or even Pinewood Derby racing, chances are a movie’s coming about your favorite pastime.

A Hollywood staple for decades with such classics as “The Pride of the Yankees,” “Rocky” and “Raging Bull,” sports flicks are on a winning streak with hits that include 2003’s “Seabiscuit,” last year’s “Miracle” and “Friday Night Lights,” and this year’s “Coach Carter.”

“They’ll always come and go in waves like other genres in the business,” says Brian Robbins, who has produced or directed such sports movies as “Varsity Blues,” “Hard Ball” and “Coach Carter” with filmmaking partner Michael Tollin. “We always say you can open up the sports section every day and get a great human story. There’s great inherent drama in sports. …

“Even those of us who have made so many sports movies and say we’re never going to do another one again, we can’t seem to get away from it,” says Mr. Robbins, who is producing an as yet untitled horse-racing tale starring Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning, due out late this year.

“There are always new stories to tell.”

Baseball probably has been the most popular subject for sports movies over the years, including “Bang the Drum Slowly,” “Bull Durham” and “Field of Dreams.”

“I love the baseball ones,” says Jimmy Fallon, who stars in “Fever Pitch” as a math teacher so obsessed with the Boston Red Sox that it endangers his romance with a business consultant (Drew Barrymore). “There’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in baseball. You just get sucked in, no matter how sappy it is.”

Mr. Fallon recalls watching Robert Redford’s “The Natural” with a bunch of hard-nosed college friends, and “by the end, there were guys crying. These are some of the toughest guys I know, and they’re crying.”

Among other upcoming sports tales: “Cinderella Man,” on which Russell Crowe reunites with director Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”) for the story of Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock; “The Longest Yard,” with Adam Sandler updating the 1970s story of prison inmates in a football showdown against sadistic guards; “Rebound,” starring Martin Lawrence as a college basketball coach doing penance leading a junior high team; “The Bad News Bears,” a remake featuring “Friday Night Lights” star Billy Bob Thornton as an ex-ballplayer coaching a ragtag Little League team; and “Kicking & Screaming,” with Will Ferrell as a dad coaching his son’s soccer team to a championship matchup against a squad headed by his overly competitive father (Robert Duvall).

The key to many such stories is the notion that an underdog’s perseverance can win the day.

“I happen to like human-triumph stories, and there are a lot of those in sports,” says Howard Baldwin, a former NHL team owner and producer of the upcoming “The Game of Their Lives,” starring Wes Bentley and Gerard Butler in the story of the U.S. soccer team that won a World Cup game against England in the 1950s.

The film was directed by David Anspaugh, who made the 1986 underdog basketball tale “Hoosiers.”

Real-life stories also are getting their due with a rush of documentaries: “Dust to Glory,” about the Baja 1000 road race; “The Year of the Yao,” the story of Yao Ming, the towering National Basketball Association star from China; and “Murderball,” a look at quadriplegic athletes competing in wheelchair rugby.

The onslaught of sports movies shows no signs of letting up. Other sports-themed movies in the works include the golf story “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” the boxing saga “Annapolis,” the basketball drama “Glory Road” and the sports-gambling tale “2 for the Money.”

Even Disney’s Love Bug gets back into the act with Lindsay Lohan’s “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” which has the little Volkswagen hitting the NASCAR circuit.

The notion of a VW Bug competing against muscle cars hits at the heart of why sports movies appeal so strongly: Everyone dreams of the glory of making it to the winner’s circle.

“I think every one of us … at some point in our lives wanted to be that,” says Peter Farrelly, who directed “Fever Pitch” with brother Bobby. “I didn’t want to be a fireman or a cop. I wanted to be a professional baseball player, a professional basketball player. Those are people’s dreams, those are people’s heroes.”

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