May 18, 2006

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Goal! (PG-13)
An illegal Mexican immigrant to Los Angeles wants to bend it like Beckham in Goal!, a sappy, over-long sports flick that is nearly saved by the hotness of its male actors.

If you’re going to make a sports movie that repeats the same obstacles-to-success scene about three times with only slight variation, features several training montages and drags on about 40 minutes longer than necessary, you might as well stack the cast with handsome lads. This strategy stands as perhaps the smartest choice Goal! makes.

The handsomest of the handsome lads is Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker), a hard-working green-card-lacking young man with some mad skills on the futbol (that’s soccer) field. He wants something more out of life that his father’s (Tony Plana) plan for them to own their own lawn care business.

After a game in his neighborhood league, Santiago is greeted by Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane), a man with connections in the British soccer world. Glen thinks Santiago has what it takes to play professionally and offers him a chance to try out for Newcastle. That chance comes at a steep price for Santiago — he can’t afford the ticket to England and, as an undocumented resident, he will have a hard time returning to the U.S.

When he finally does make it to Newcastle, a series of hurdles await him there as well. He has to play in mud (something very unfamiliar to a boy from sunny SoCal), the game is tougher, his teammates are a bit hostile and, when things almost start to go his way, his asthma starts to act up.

A very few good things do happen to our boy — he meets a girl, learns a bit about self-worth and gives the family back home someone of which to be proud.

Goal! is very standard in how its tale of perseverance and believing in oneself unfolds. Humble beginnings, works for a chance, training montage, blows the chance, gets another chance, training montage, hits on a girl, gets a date, training montage, wins something, celebrates, learns valuable lesson about misbehaving, training montage… Eventually, my montage-induced daze was interrupted by a building score and I realized that we were finally at the Big Game that signifies such a film’s end. Goal!’s only innovation to the genre is really the hero’s ethnicity (undocumented immigrants are the current political scapegoats so it seems only fair to give them the underdog-who-makes-good role). The rest of the elements — soccer, England, going against a family’s wishes — have been pulled from other sports flicks and dressed up just enough to give the appearance of being a whole new film.

A diehard soccer fan might feel just enough of the heartpounding excitement to wait out Goal!’s slow parts for the fun of the on-the-field action. For the rest of us, Goal! offers a few eye-candy thrills but little more. C


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