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ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
Reviewed by FRED W WRIGHT JR.
Director : Oliver Stone
Take away the crunching sounds of bodies colliding and the smeared images of bodies flying, and Any Given Sunday becomes a rather routine soap opera.
Oliver Stone's latest film echoes of many other sports films. Despite some imaginative camera work and sound effects, Any Given Sunday revisits many of the most popular sports film cliches.
There's the conniving female team owner who couldn't care less about the health and welfare of her players -- only the bottom line of her bank account.
There's the profane coach who is soured on the game and whose style of coaching is to yell instructions at the top of his voice.
There's the rookie player suddenly thrown into the starting lineup, forced to carry the team's season on his unseasoned shoulders and to deal with a rapidly inflating ego.
And finally, there are the players themselves -- a rowdy bunch of guys who curse, roughhouse, drink, chase women and otherwise act as almost all movie athletes act -- oversized juvenile delinquents.
Stone wants to get across a number of messages. The biggest one is that old values no longer hold. It's a message we've heard frequently from Stone in his previous films. We hear it here again over and over again, with football as the extended metaphor to represent the values and joys of life.
Al Pacino's portrayal of a pro football team coach, struggling to have a winning season and make the playoffs, is all decibel and scowl. Pacino has no joy in his job. None of his players seem to either.
His rag-tag team -- the Miami Sharks, playing in some vague pro football league -- consists of scarred and battered players and a third string quarterback flung into the spotlight.
It's true that Tampa Bay Bucs fans may find Any Given Sunday a tad more interesting because of some loose parallels -- the Bucs also have a third string quarterback taking the team into the playoffs.
But Oliver Stone's Willie Beaman is no Tony Dungy's Sean King. Far from it.
The most exciting aspect of this film is Stone's continual manipulation of sight and sound. All tackles occur with accentuated sound effects. Most plays are displayed with slo-mo detail or blurred sped-up images.
Players sometimes even emit simulated animal growls as they size each other up from both sides of the ball. At other times, Stone fills the screen with clips of old football greats, foreboding skies, lightning and rain, split screen images and picture-in-picture views of two plots unfolding simultaneously.
Surprisingly, though, Stone allows some amateurish elements to peek through. On-field antics that would get a player flagged or even suspended go by unnoticed. And excruciatingly slow slo-mo shots of a deep pass sailing into unknown hands are displayed against a stadium crowd in the background that is silent and still, sitting on their hands when any self-respecting crowd would be up and roaring.
And the plots are old stuff, sometimes silly, and the stars in this film -- plus some famous old footballers like Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor -- include Charlton Heston as the league commissioner, Cameron Diaz as the selfish owner, Ann-Margret as a boozie football widow, LL Cool J as, well, a character very similar to LL Cool J, only with cleats, and James Wood as a team doctor with questionable ethics.
The world in which this football team plays is vague and cloudy. While the home town is clearly Miami, displayed with frequent sweeping helicopter shots and high-angle looks at South Beach and the waterfront, the league is never clear.
The Miami Dolphins are referenced twice as "that other team across town," and the pro teams in this league wear dorky uniforms and have names like the Minnesota Americans, Chicago Rhinos, the Los Angeles Crusaders, the New York Emperors and the Dallas Knights.
Team owner Diaz is politicking for a new stadium. That would make two pro football stadiums in Miami? That plotlet along challenges credulity.
For Oliver Stone, the message seems to overshadow the medium. He desperately wants us to re-evaluate three key words -- "focus," "intensity" and "control." Pacino lectures us about how important these elements are in football -- and thus, Stone says, in life.
His players win only when they apply focus, intensity and control.
Relationships, girlfriends, wives and other secondary issues fall by the way.
Perhaps the biggest surprise here is ex-pro Lawrence Taylor, playing a defensive player on the verge of a career-ending, or even life-ending, game. Taylor golden-toothed grin is unmistakable and he holds his own against such heavyweights as Pacino and Diaz.
Some viewers will enjoy this film nonetheless because, after all, there aren't that many football films out there.
And, with all his visual gymnastics, Stone can be distractingly entertaining. In fact, moviegoers should stick around for the film's credits on Any Given Sunday. Stone throws in a plot twist at the end that you'll miss if you head for the exit at the first credit line.