“MY ALL AMERICAN” — 3 stars — Finn Wittrock, Sara Bolger, Robin Tunney, Aaron Eckhart, Kristin McKenzie; PG (thematic elements, language and brief partial nudity); in general release
“My All American” takes a while to get interesting, but it finishes with a nice payoff. It fits nicely in the “Rudy” sub-genre of inspiring underdog sports movies, but it’s also another textbook example of why it’s difficult to translate real life onto the big screen.
Director Angelo Pizzo’s film tells the true story of Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock), a scrappy, undersized defensive back who played football for the University of Texas back in the late 1960s. Steinmark was never an official All-American selection, but to coach Darrell Royal (Aaron Eckhart), he was the heart of the team.
Most of “My All American” is about showing us how Steinmark gets to that point, and it’s pretty conflict-free. Freddie may be undersized, but his heart and determination quickly turn roadblocks into speed bumps. He makes the team, gets the girl and arrives at the national championship game, all on a linear, fast-track plot line that leaves you wondering why the guy deserves his own movie.
Things don’t get interesting until the cause of a nagging leg injury is revealed almost three-quarters of the way into the film. It’s here that “My All American” becomes truly inspiring and moving. Better late than never, you could say.
In the meantime, the audience will have to make do with a tension-free story. You can watch Steinmark’s courtship with Linda Wheeler (Sarah Bolger), the bookish woman who isn’t interested in sports, then literally becomes a cheerleader within a couple of minutes’ screen time. You can watch Steinmark interact with Randy Peschel (Eddie Davenport), the teammate who paves his way to Texas, or if you are just a football fan, you can watch an arm’s length history of Texas’ famed wishbone offense.
There’s also a pro-religion theme that pops up from time to time, as Steinmark’s God-fearing devotion keeps him on the strait and narrow when confronted with college parties and the death of Peschel’s brother in Vietnam. A little more subtlety might have helped here, as Pizzo tends to telegraph his religious passes, and would be better off letting the actions speak for themselves.
Wittrock does a solid job as Freddie, leading a cast of mostly unknowns through the story. Eckhart is the biggest name in the credits, lending a Texas drawl to lines like “You run like you’ve got a school of minnows in your pants,” but his screen time is fairly limited.
There’s also a lot of crunching sound effects to amp up the entertainment quality of the football sequences. According to “My All American,” about 30 percent of college football is spent spinning in the air.
Because of the narrative problems, it’s hard to rank “My All American” with the best of history’s long line of sports movies. But this won’t be too disappointing to Pizzo, who also wrote “Hoosiers” and “Rudy,” two of the genre’s icons.
There are better underdog movies, better football movies and even better underdog football movies. But if you’re looking for a family friendly piece of sports-related inspiration, “My All American” will deliver, eventually.
“My All American” is rated PG for thematic elements, language and some sexuality; running time: 118 minutes.