“When the Game Stands Tall” is a solid if unsurprising and uninspiring melodrama about high school football.
It’s the latest in that peculiar subgenre of sports films in which a perennial powerhouse football factory is made to look like an underdog. These stories, about a Permian High in Texas (“Friday Night Lights”) or T.C. Williams in Virginia (“Remember the Titans”), claim to be about “more than a game,” even as they build toward their by-the-book “big game” finale.
“When the Game” varies the formula by being faith-based, about a pious coach (Jim Caviezel) who talks about building character as much as he worries about blocking schemes.
Coach Bob Ladouceur lectures his team about setting high standards, making “a perfect effort, from the snap to the whistle” on each play.
Something worked, because this Concord, Calif., school won 151 games in a row at one point. “When the Game Stands Tall” is about the tests faced when that streak was broken.
Coach, quietly obsessed with “the streak,” has a heart attack. No matter how many times he says, “It’s just a high school football game,” we don’t believe him.
Caviezel has become the Tim Tebow of movie actors. Cloaked in Christianity, he’s been surrounded by success (“The Passion of the Christ”), but you wonder how much of that is a result of his talent. He rarely smiles, and his lines all have a stern authority about them.
Director Thomas Carter, who made the high school hoops drama “Coach Carter,” covers many of the same bases here, but loses the thread.
And for all the naked manipulation of the music and the story that builds toward an only slightly unexpected climax, “When the Game Stands Tall” never delivers that lump in the throat that a “Rudy” or “We Are Marshall” or “Friday Night Lights” managed.