The film “American Underdog” alerts the viewer, especially younger viewers, who may have dreams of playing professional football, as to the reality of making those dreams come to fruition. There are approximately one million teenagers playing high school football on a yearly basis. The number that will graduate from high school, and go onto play college ball, is about 5%. The athletes that will be able to take their talents to the NFL, are approximately 1% of all college football players. Once there, they better have majored in something practical because the average length of an NFL player’s career is three years. The chances of one of those players getting to the Super Bowl, and being named MVP, are even more astronomical. Kurt Warner, became one of those elite few, but it was an arduous journey for him to arrive at that moment.
At the start of “American Underdog,” an adolescent Kurt Warner (Beau Hart) is watching Super Bowl XIX, which took place on January 20, 1985, between the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins. The 49ers would go onto win the game by a score of 38-16, but it wasn’t a particular team, that young Warner was fascinated by, it was the play of The 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, who from that moment forward, Warner wanted to emulate. The film advances past the remainder of Warner’s childhood, and next, when he’s shown on screen it is his senior year at the University of Northern Iowa. The part of Warner, from this point forward in the film, is portrayed by Zachary Levi (Chuck). (As an aside: Joe Montana is an NFL icon. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. During his fifteen year career, his highlights included, but were not limited to, his passing for over 40,000 yards; winning four Super Bowls, being named the MVP of three of the four Super Bowls he did win, and he was twice named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player).
One night, while out with his friend Mike (Ser’Darius Blain), at a bar, that caters to those who enjoy country music and line dancing, Warner meets Brenda Meoni. He becomes immediately smitten with her. The part of Brenda is played by Oscar and Golden Globe winner Anna Paquin (True Blood). Brenda is a former marine, and single mother of two: four year old Jesse (Cora Wilkerson), and eleven year old Zach (Hayden Zaller), her legally blind son. Brenda has been hurt in the past, and while she wants to give Warner the benefit of the doubt, he’s going to have to prove to her, that he wants to be a part, not only of her life, but her children’s lives as well.
As Warner and Brenda’s relationship progresses, he gets the call he’s been hoping and praying for. The Green Bay Packers, have invited Warner to training camp. Warner feels he will finally get the opportunity he’s been waiting for to showcase his athletic prowess, but, his total time with the team, is short lived. When one of the coaches asks Warner to run a play, he freezes up, and foregoes his chance. Later that same day, Warner is let go.
Dejected, but having a wife and children to provide for, Warner takes a job at a supermarket stocking shelves. The entire time, however, he dreams of NFL glory. Eventually, Warner joins, and dominates, the Arena Football League. As a member of owner Jim Foster’s (Bruce McGill) Iowa Barnstormers, he is given another shot at the NFL, by the St. Louis Rams. The only problem is, once he gets there, the team’s offensive coordinator, Mike Martz (Chance Kelly), seems to have it in for him. Warner’s only chance, is to win over the head coach, Dick Vermeil, portrayed by Emmy nominee Dennis Quaid (The Special Relationship). (As an aside: This is the fourth football themed film that Dennis Quaid has appeared in. The others are: “Everybody’s All-American” (1988), “Any Given Sunday” (1999), and “The Express” (2008).
“American Underdog” was co-directed by Andrew Erwin (I Still Believe), and his brother Joe Erwin (I Can Only Imagine). The Erwin brothers, along with David Aaron Cohen (Friday Night Lights), wrote the screenplay. The screenplay was adapted from the book “All Things Possible,” written by Kurt Warner and Michel Silver, which was published by HarperCollins Publishers on August 1, 2000. The film was released in multiple countries, including, but not limited to, The United States and Canada on December 25, 2021. Parts biography, drama, and sports, the movie has a runtime of 112 minutes.
After I had already watched “American Underdog,” when I went to look up some information on the film, I read all of these reviews which touted it as a Christian movie. While the filmmakers, in the past, have worked within the emerging Christian genre of film, I didn’t view the movie like that at all. I didn’t, for one moment, get the sense that the filmmakers were trying to proselytize me. I viewed the film as a drama and sports movie, that centered on a real life person, Kurt Warner, whose path to the NFL was not the proverbial Cinderella story, but one that was filled with genuine struggle and heartache. The lesson that can be learned from a film like this is simple, never give up, because going after what you want, one more time, might be all that stands in your way between living a life of mediocrity, and one that the stuff dreams are made of.