By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)
Underdog stories can be a wonderful source of joy and inspiration, but they can also fulfill that human need to feel good. And though this movie has a lovable and winning story inspiring it, the film falls and mostly fails due to cliche story telling and character development. Based on the non fiction novel Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites, the writers who adapted the screenplay and director Ty Roberts have chosen a rather rote and tiresome way of presenting this underdog story that almost completely undermines the victory achieved by the real people upon this movie is based.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Masonic Home Mighty Mites team made a name for themself in Texas high school football history. As most Texans know, high school football is huge in the grand state, and to be a remembered and honored name in its history is no easy feat. During the Great Depression, Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson), an orphan himself, decides to make a difference in the lives of orphans by taking a job as a teacher and football coach for the Masonic Home for orphans in Fort Worth, Texas. By taking this less-than-glorious job, Russell hopes to inspire the young orphans of the Masonic Home to rise above their sadness and hardship to become the strong young men they can be. Though it takes some time to get through to these despondent young men, his leadership and coaching skills definitely break through and help shape them into a formidable football team with futures much brighter than their origins.
Now granted, the true story behind the Masonic Home’s Mighty Mites team is certainly an inspirational and empowering one, given the hardships endured by these young men. However, the writers and director behind this movie adaptation have made the very poor decision to copy and employ so many storytelling devices and character traits that have been used, or rather, overused in so many other movies. For example, when it comes to the development of Coach Rusty Russell, the filmmakers might as well have used war flashback clips from the movie Airplane! to show that he suffers from PTSD. Though his flashbacks are not exactly laughable, they come across as cheap and dumb attempts to elicit an emotional response from the audience. At least with the orphans, the development of these characters feel a bit more genuine when it comes with their struggles.
Still, the mostly transparent plotting and development is not even salvaged much by the performances of the cast. Don’t get me wrong; most of the cast performs decently despite the weaknesses of the script. Luke Wilson does his best as Rusty Russell. I suppose it doesn’t hurt that he is actually from Texas and can pull off the accent naturally. Jake Austin Walker also delivers a solid and respectable performance as Hardy Brown, one of the orphaned team members struggling to recover from having been recently orphaned. The film also features performances by Martin Sheen, Vinessa Shaw, Wayne Knight, and Treat Williams, but these actors are either portraying movie clichés or are simply phoning in in their acting.
Or at least that is how they come across in the finished product. The ultimate disservice by this movie comes from the writing and direction. I gave this movie a generous rating of 2 stars because the story that inspires this adaptation is remarkable and that, alone, had me compelled to continue watching despite the terrible ways it is presented. I also felt somewhat moved by the story of these orphans achieving some level of respect and triumph despite their backgrounds. These legends of Texas Football deserve a way better movie.