Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Sports movies are prone to a certain predictability. When a grumpy coach eventually appreciates a rag-tag team of misfits after he leads them to excel, we can hardly be surprised. The Bad News Bears or The Mighty Ducks are but two of many cinematic examples. However, the inevitable success rewards viewers with that emotionally satisfying arc we crave. Champions is a touching drama tinged with comedy. It won me over despite its lack of sophistication. Simplicity is part of its charm.

Woody Harrelson stars as Marcus, a minor-league basketball coach who gets arrested for drunk driving. His sentence is to manage a squad of players with intellectual disabilities as community service. “The Friends” will teach him a valuable lesson along the way. A disorganized group learns how to perform better while the instructor grows to understand these individuals are more than just their athletic skills. The situation is admittedly manipulative, but the results are uplifting nonetheless.

Champions is fortified by a spirited cast. The Friends are a ten-player team that includes an assemblage of captivating personalities. All the athletes contribute significantly with various stories. For example, Darius (Joshua Felder) refuses to play for Marcus. His reasons will be revealed. Actress Madison Tevlin is a scene stealer as Cosentino. Rounding out the ensemble are Ernie Hudson as the boss who fires Marcus, Kaitlin Olson as a sassy love interest, Matt Cook as Marcus’ assistant, and Cheech Marin as the manager of the rec center where the Friends practice. It’s all of these interactions that elevate the narrative into a compelling account.

The screenplay by Mark Rizzo is based on the 2018 Spanish film Campeones. That Goya winning production was inspired by a real-life Special Olympics team from Valencia, Spain, which won twelve championships. Directed by Bobby Farrelly in his solo directorial debut. The filmmaker is half of the Farrelly brothers, who — together with his brother Peter — directed classic comedies like Dumb and Dumber & There’s Something About Mary. Bobby’s movie Champions is more virtuous and less crude. Incidentally, his sibling Peter hit it big in 2018 with Best Picture winner Green Book.

A saga can be made up of cliched elements, but it’s how those details are presented that ultimately win you over. I was skeptical about the setup, but I found myself embracing the tenderness and warmth of this chronicle. Even though the developments are formulaic, the story is genial and compassionate. Champions is unabashedly sweet. A great pizza may be composed of tried and true ingredients, but it still consistently satisfies my cravings. Likewise, so too does a good sports comedy with a lot of heart.


3 Responses to “Champions”

  1. I was happy to see that this wasn’t a foul mouthed silly film. It had a lot of genuine heart. I really enjoyed this. 3 1/2 ⭐️


  2. Great to see your review for this, I want to see this as I like a good feel-good story and Woody Harrelson seems a good fit for the “grouchy coach” archetype.

    Liked by 1 person

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