CHAMPIONS – A Review by Cynthia Flores
Champions is the uplifting and often touching new comedy from Focus Features. It’s the American version of the 2018 award-winning and acclaimed Spanish language film Camperones.
In this film, we see a stubborn and hotheaded minor league basketball coach named Marcus (Woody Harrelson) sentenced to community service after several unruly incidents on and off the court. The judge tells him he must coach a Special Olympics basketball team called the Friends for his mandated time.
Marcus ended up in this situation because of his lack of people skills. That is genuinely showcased in his private life and his romantic relationships. A woman named Alex (Kaitlin Olson) he met on a dating app and never intended to see again is thrust back into the picture unexpectedly. Her little brother Johnny (Kevin Iannucci), who has Down Syndrome, is on his team. They are forced to interact with each other as civilly as possible. And yes, there is a natural attraction between the two.
Running the shoestring-budget, non-profit recreation center where Marcus works with the Friends team is Juilo (Cheech Marin). Julio is a guy who has devoted his life to running this league. And he is protective of his Friends’ team. He sees potential in this rough-around-the-edges coach that needs the team more than they need him.
As Marcus trains the team to bring them to a higher level of competition and a chance to go for gold at the matches, he learns to open up and understand that he needs to be as good at being a caring human being as he is good at the game of basketball.
Champions has a lot of good chemistry in it. There is a working chemistry between director Bobby Farrelly and Woody Harrelson, who last collaborated on Kingpins in 1996. The believable romantic chemistry between Marcus and Alex. And most importantly, the contagiously fun chemistry between the ten IDD actors – According to the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, IDD stands for intellectually and developmentally disabled.
Many that were cast for the film not only had to act for the first time but also had to learn how to play basketball. The director’s son, A.B. Farrelly, was still in high school and worked with a group in the public high school called Hoop Heroes. It is similar to the Friends group in the film. So A.B. enjoyed working extensively with the ten actors hired to be the Friends team. Of his work on the film and with the team, A.B. said,
“It’s been fantastic,” he says. “You got to leave work every day with a tremendous amount of joy. A lot of our Disabled actors have been told their whole life what they can’t do, and to watch them every day be movie stars with Woody and Kaitlin was pretty cool. It reminded me that you should never let people tell you what you can or can’t do.”
The vibe of Champions reminded me of the PG-rated 1976 hit The Bad News Bears. However, Champions chose to go the off-color jokes route, which wasn’t needed. By throwing in some smutty jokes among the Friends team that often fell flat because of the stiff delivery, they missed the chance to make a film the whole family could enjoy. I think that is too bad. Because younger audiences would have given the film a bigger audience and need to see people with IDD on the big screen. Also, the smuttiness of the humor is not dirty enough to appeal to older teenage audiences that would consider it too tame. So it was a missed shot that just bounced off the rim.
I give Champions 3 stars. It’s a silly and fun movie that won’t win any awards but is full of heart and laughs. Also, I enjoyed seeing Woody Harrelson in another basketball movie. It’s been a while since he trod the floorboards in White Men Can’t Jump.
Directed by: Bobby Farrelly
Written by: Mark Rizzo, Javier Fresser, David Marquez
Selig Rating: 3 Stars
Running Time: 2h 3min
Wide Release: In Theaters March 10th
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson, Cheech Marin, Matt Cook, Kevin Iannucci
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie/show, well worth the time and price.
4 Stars – Good movie/show
3 Stars – OK movie/show
2 Stars – Well, there was nothing else…
1 Star – Total waste of time.