Why this documentary on the Cosmos, New York’s glamorous but short-lived (1971--1985) soccer team, is getting a theatrical release is puzzling. Alternating talking-head testimonies and vintage footage of skinny men in short shorts, and backed by wall-to-wall 1970s tunes, the colorful but flimsy Once in a Lifetime comes across like a VH1 foray into the wide world of sports.
Directors Paul Crowder and John Dower describe the Cosmos as the folly of music execs Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegun (who had more luck running Atlantic Records) and deep-pocketed Warner Communications CEO Steve Ross. But few remember them as soccer visionaries now, because the squad was identified primarily with one man: Pel.
Alas, Pel declined to be interviewed, leaving a void that’s almost filled by Giorgio Chinaglia, a controversial, flamboyant Italian striker who constantly tried to upstage his Brazilian teammate and whose company ran the Cosmos after Warner pulled out. Chinaglia now looks vaguely like Tony Soprano and is portrayed by Crowder and Dower as a Machiavellian don, one of the many cheesy touches that dot the movie; slo-mo Pel goals are set to opera, The Ride of the Valkyries booms when German sweeper Franz “Der Kaiser” Beckenbauer is introduced. The Cosmos may have been hugely successful for a few years, but this doc’s skin-deep approach unwittingly illustrates soccer’s continuing struggle in the U.S. (Opens Fri; Angelika.) — Elisabeth Vincentelli