The best football movies—Friday Night Lights, say—succeed by suggesting that something urgent and deeply personal is at stake besides a winning touchdown or a state championship. Gridiron Gang, a hectoring Sunday-school lecture with jockstraps and shoulder pads, isn’t among them. Based, according to a heavy-handed epigraph, “on a true story,” the film egregiously Hollywoodizes the efforts of a Southern California juvie-camp officer (Johnson, a likable actor subdued by the required speechifying) to assemble a football squad from among his wayward wards. He’s helped by a fellow bull (Xzibit) and opposed, more or less, by the camp’s director (Deadwood’s splendid Rippy). Unsurprisingly, the ragtag team snatches victory from the jaws of probability, and important lessons are learned.
Here’s a couple they missed: Noble intentions make for lousy movies, and platitudes aren’t the same as insights. Producer Lee Stanley, Gridiron Gang’s real auteur (Joanou is clearly in it for the paycheck), can’t be faulted for wanting to tell this story, as he did in a 1993 TV doc. But attempting to score karma points with stock characters, laughable sentiment and—in a queasy double standard— pulse-quickening violence serves no one.—Mark Holcomb
(Opens Fri; see Now Playing for venues.)