We Are Marshall is a great story, but as a movie it settles for just OK.
Sure, it's earnest and sweet, but it's too inconsequential, too clichd, to really explore the wrenching real events it depicts.
It's about the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash that killed all 75 people on board - the Marshall University football team, its coaching staff and a number of boosters. It took a terrible toll on the West Virginia college and town, and We Are Marshall has a few strong scenes as it shows the aftermath of that tragedy, as the school tries to decide whether to try to build a whole new team from scratch.
Too soon, though, it turns into yet another underdog sports movie, following the familiar path taken by so many before. Director McG, who made the Charlie's Angels movies, probably was the best choice here: Everything seems pre-packaged, generic.
That means we get inspirational talks, training montages set to pop songs, hapless players. In subpar game action, we get a terrible defeat and a stirring comeback. Occasionally it seems to remember that this a sad film, so it stops for a moment of reflection. Some of those moments work - the story is so sad, after all - but then it moves briskly on past that.
Matthew McConaughey, squinting and drawling, plays Jack Lengyel, a small-time coach who takes on the daunting job of creating a football team from scratch. He seems a bit comical for such a story, but at least his act is strangely watchable.
Matthew Fox (Lost) plays an assistant coach from the doomed team who, by chance, missed the deadly flight. Eaten up by grief and guilt, he seems to be a visitor from a movie far different from the one the jaunty Mr. McConaughey inhabits.
The players who suit up for the new team are a bland bunch. Only one, the fiery Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie), stands out. He was an injured veteran player, so he didn't make the flight, and now he's fiercely trying to create another team and will it to win. Perhaps We Are Marshall should have focused on him, instead of going all over the place.
'WE ARE MARSHALL'
THE VERDICT: ** out of ****
WHO'S IT FOR? Football fans
CREDITS: Starring Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox and Anthony Mackie; directed by McG
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours, 4 minutes
FAMILY GUIDE: PG, some mild profanity