Film Review: “Champioms”


  • Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson
  • Directed by Bobby Farrelly
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running time: 2 hrs 4 mins
  • Focus Features
It is a tale as old as time – a coach, of varying past success, falls on hard times but finds redemption by helping a group of misfits overcome great odds to become a team that achieves some form of glory. “The Way Back.” “Hoosiers.” “The Bad News Bears.” “The Mighty Ducks.” Those are but a few examples of this tired cinematic theme. In his first solo directorial effort, filmmaker Bobby Farrelly, who has co-helmed such titles as “Shallow Hal” and “Me, Myself & Irene,” takes his own shot as the sports genre with “Champions.” Starring Woody Harrelson, “Champions” takes us on a cute journey as a disgraced basketball coach is forced to work with a group of young people with learning disabilities. Unfortunately, the story fails to pull the heartstrings, nor does it inspire one to jump up and down for joy.
Marcus Marakovich (Harrelson) has a history of success with his impeccable basketball knowledge. However, it’s been his inability to get to know his players that has been his downfall on several occasions. Of course, his hot temper hasn’t helped much either. One night, while serving as an assistant coach for a minor league basketball team in Iowa, he gets into an argument with the team’s head coach (Ernie Hudson) and shoves him to the court floor, which becomes the subject of national news. He then gets drunk and crashes into a police car. An unsympathetic judge sentences Marcus to 90 days of community service by coaching a team consisting of young people with learning disabilities called Friends.
Marcus is not at all enthusiastic about his current plight, but he tries to make the best of it while also trying to convince someone in the NBA to give him a shot as an assistant. As one might expect, the kids start to grow on him and he even starts a relationship Alex (Kaitlin Olson, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), the older protective sister of one of his players. The dilemma that Marcus ultimately faces is whether to stay in Iowa or go off to fulfill his lifelong dream.
The supporting cast, who represent the players on the Friends team, are a delight to watch as the enthusiasm and joy they bring to the silver screen are palpable. Harrelson and Olson are pleasant together onscreen while the former delivers an okay performance. “Champions” is a nice attempt by Farrelly to do something different, but the story lacks emotional depth and is simply too formulaic for its own good. It’s just a slight variation to what’s been done a thousand times before.
Overall, “Champions” is a soft layup rather than a slam dunk.
“Champions” receives two stars out of five.

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