American Underdog (2021)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Andrew and John Erwin
Run Time
1 hour and 52 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.

1 Corinthians 9:24
Brenda gives husband Kurt Warner a victory kiss. (c) Lionsgate

Americans have always (mostly) rooted for the underdog, perhaps partly because our rag-tag batch of ancestors who took on the mightiest empire since Rome emerged triumphant. Brothers Andrew and John Erwin, adapting football player Kurt Warner’s same-titled memoir, American Underdog, have given us an underdog story to beat all such unlikely stories. The filmmakers work in the faith-based genre—see their I Can Only Imagine—but they are enough artists that they avoid preaching, knowing that showing is always better than telling, that less religious jargon in a film is always more acceptable to the general public. (Although I saw a number of secular critics inject a note of disdain in their reviews.)

Kurt Warner (Zachary Levi) spent most of his four years on the bench of a small Iowa college’s football team, so his prospects in NFL’s draft are not bright. Passed over, he does manage to get a one-day try-out with the Green Bay Packers, but this does not go well. He is a stock clerk at a grocery store when he spots a divorced mother named Brenda (Anna Paquin) line dancing at a local bar. Due to her past experience and concerned about her young daughter and handicapped son, she at first resists his advances, but he persists, even learning how to line dance so he can join her on the dance floor.

Kurt goes to her house, but she is not in. Her blind, slightly brain-damaged, son Zack (Hayden Zaller) lets the visitor in. Kurt accepts the boy’s invitation to lie down with him on the floor and talk. Who could resist such a man who enjoys children—literally in this case at their level? Soon they are married, and Brenda supports her new husband’s ambition to play professional football. A woman of deep faith, she says, “God has something great” for him.

However, the invitation to use his quarterbacking skills comes from Jim Foster (Bruce McGill) in the Arena Football League team, the Iowa Barnstormers. Arena Football. “That’s a circus,” Kurt responds, knowing that Arena Football is more of side-show than an actual league. But when promised $100 for every touchdown, Kurt gives in. A good thing, because it does give him visibility, and his success at completing passes does attract the attention of the Ram’s head coach Dick Vermeil (Dennis Quaid), who despite the skepticism of others, decides to give the now middle-aged player one last chance.  Having learned some valuable lessons from past failures, Warner vows to commit all of himself. “This is my time. I know who I am, and I know why I’m here.” The rest, as they say, is history, victory in Super Bowl XXXIV, induction into the Football Hall of Fame, and more.

The film deals as much with Kurt and Brenda’s relationship as it does with his prowess on the football field. The plays that we do see are well staged and exciting, so this should be a film appealing to sports f ans as well as those who like a good romance. The two leads are totally convincing as the unlikely pair who make possible Kurt’s quest for his impossible dream. Kurt’s struggle is so long and convoluted that the old Civil Rights song came to my mind, “Keep your eye on the prize, Hold on, hold on!” Kurt did indeed “hold on.” So too did Brenda. Both seem amply rewarded—and you will be too.

This review will be in the January issue of  VP along with a few questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

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