In Gridiron Gang, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson once again displays far more cinematic charisma than one could expect from a former professional wrestler. Sean Porter (Johnson, Be Cool), a football player turned juvenile detention counsellor, wrestles with a seemingly insolvable problem: The vast majority of young men who leave detention fall right back into crime. Seeking a way to give these not-yet-hardened kids a taste of self-esteem and discipline, Porter persuades his superiors to let him teach the kids football--and then take on high school teams. Though based on a true story (documentary footage over the closing credits reveals that some dialogue was lifted straight from the real Sean Porter's mouth), Gridiron Gang is pure underdogs-overcome-adversity formula. A formula is not necessarily a bad thing; when executed with skill and commitment, fulfilling a classic story mechanism can be perfectly satisfying, and Gridiron Gang qualifies. But it's Johnson who carries it through, demonstrating--in the most unlikely of roles--a surprisingly gentle touch. Johnson manages to be manly without overbearing machismo, earning not only respect but empathy. --Bret Fetzer, Amazon.com
In 1990, coaches Sean Porter and Malcolm Moore took the Kilpatrick Mustangs--an American football team of hardcore juvenile offenders from California's Camp Kilpatrick juvenile detention centre--through their inaugural season, in which they reached the regional championships. In 1993, an Emmy-winning documentary, Gridiron Gang, aired on U.S. television. In this fictionalised version of the same name, Dwayne The Rock Johnson stars as Porter, the coach who uses sports as a means to instil self-esteem into a group of boys for whom crime is a way of life. A former troubled youth who used football as a means to stay off of the streets, Porter, along with Malcolm Moore (Xzibit) now presides over Camp Kilpatrick, where the inmates are gang members, murderers, and drug dealers. Among them are Willie Weathers (Jade York), a gang member doing time for a botched act of revenge. Showing that old rivalries hold true even away from the streets, fellow inmate and rival gang member Calvin Owens (David Thomas) won't let Willie forget that they are sworn enemies. But once Porter introduces American football as an outlet, the common goal of winning unites them in ways that no one expected. Director Phil Joanou (State of Grace) keeps the proceedings gritty, giving us not only the uplifting and exciting American football sequences, but also a handful of heart-pounding--and somewhat graphic--scenes of gang violence, and former Yes member Trevor Rabin's effective score is a nice alternative to the typical pop soundtrack. Not all sweetness and light, Gridiron Gang is a fine addition to the realm of cinematic sports, levelling the more sentimental aspects of the film with a copious counter-dose of realism.