Any Given Sunday
"Run away! Run away!" is the good advice King Arthur and the knights get in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," and it works even better for audiences considering "Any Given Sunday." Too late for Thanksgiving, this film now stands as the year's Christmas turkey.
Can we ask what ever became of Oliver Stone? You know, the one who posed the big questions, the one who made Americans reexamine their politics and their values with "Platoon," "Wall Street," "JFK," "Born on the Fourth of July." The one who had an ear for truth and an eye for action. Because with "Any Given Sunday," his attempt at deconstructing the world of professional football, Stone shows only a tin ear and a blind eye for the nature, the essence, of football.
His story is a simpleminded cliché about an aging coach (Al Pacino), still tied to the play-calling strategies of the 1970s, an aging quarterback (Dennis Quaid), an aggressive young team owner (Cameron Diaz), and a hot young quarterback ready to take over (Jamie Foxx). Let's see; I forgot the team physician (James Woods) who's only interested in getting injured players back on the field; the sophisticated black defensive coach (Jim Brown); the possibly terminally injured aging defensive linebacker (Lawrence Taylor); the hookers, the wives, the girlfriends, the sportscasters.
All of them together cannot save this mess of a film. They're so busy repeating trite lines and sentiments they haven't got time for plot, character, or even, amazingly, action. After all, if there's one thing a football film should have it's action. But Stone has shot this as though neither he nor anyone else had ever seen a football game. So we get nothing of how a play works, nothing of the moves and counter-moves, nothing of the kind of acrobatic skill and brute strength and endurance necessary to play at this level for sixty minutes. We never even see an actual play -- there's nothing but quick cuts of slams, blocks, falls, and grunts. The worst CBS-TV coverage of a game between, say, the current Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens is infinitely better and more interestingly presented than anything in this 2-hour-and-35-minute travesty, of which I wouldn't be surprised to find that forty minutes are occupied with extreme slow-motion footage of a pass going through the air, and another half hour with Pacino delivering homilies to his team in the dressing room. Or maybe it's the other way around; it could be that he speaks for forty minutes. By then I didn't care.
The script (by Stone and John Logan) shows signs of having been written on the fly, during shooting, because there's hardly a plot thread to be found. Nothing leads anywhere beyond the moment, and Stone has substituted noise for content. Wherever the scene falters he cuts to great white noise and music, with thuds and explosions as substitutes for meaning.
Jamie Foxx, playing the one interesting character in the film, is victimized by being given contradictory motivations and back-story. He's the third-string quarterback, he gets to play late in a game, he has what we think are rookie jitters when he vomits in the huddle, but later we find that he's been in the league five years, with four different clubs. So why the nerves? And when it comes to the great climax, the playoff game, Stone has found a way to stretch the last nine seconds into a kind of Y2K, endless rapture kind of eternity. If you thought "For Love of the Game" was meretricious that way, it holds not even a candle to "Any Given Sunday." How have the mighty fallen.