No high-fives for 'Big Green'

September 29, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

A few weeks ago, I had the intense physical pleasure of standing on the sidelines while my son's football team whipped an ancient foe to whom they'd been routinely losing for years. And my joy was nothing to their joy: To see them intoxicated at game's end on the vapors of victory was to see pride of manhood at its highest pitch. Each of them, I know, had earned a moment of bliss so pure he'd never forget it.

That's what sports movies are selling, only without all the time in the gym. Here's "The Big Green," in which the sport is soccer and the locale is Texas, and it is "The Mighty Ducks" and "Major League" and "Hoosiers" and any big game movie you ever saw all rolled into one -- only not as good.

It attempts to reproduce the moment of triumph, of leaping kids and high-fiving parents and a coach giving thanks to God; that as pure spectacle, usually works.

The setting is Elma, Texas, a jerkwater town on the road to someplace else, where nobody stops. It looks like a Peter Bogdanovich reject for "The Last Picture Show." Too bleak, too windblown, too much unkempt grass. The dreariness of Elma is the film's one significant achievement -- credit cinematographer Ralf Bode.

Into town one day blows a blonde in a convertible. With a British accent. It turns out to be the improbably attractive Olivia D'Abo, her accent feebly explained by the fiction of an "exchange program" (It imports starlets to dying Texas burgs? What kind of program is that?), she tries to pep up the place by teaching the kids "football." That is, soccer.

Once the 10 minutes of football/soccer confusion jokes are exhausted, with poor Steve Guttenberg as the local cornpone deputy who gits a crush on Miss Olivia, the movie repairs to the soccer field and dies. It turns out that director Holly Goldberg Sloan has no particular gift for staging action, and the games never seem authentic. There's nothing of the grace and power of a game played well, no sense of strategy or know-how; when she doesn't know what to do, she overcranks for comic effect.

The movie lacks significant texture or reality to be anything other than a routine programmer of the sort that is becoming entirely too common to the Disney product.

'The Big Green' Starring Olivia D'Abo and Steve Guttenberg

Directed by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Released by Disney

Rated PG

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