It's easy to guess the basic dramatic elements of the plot of "We Are Marshall," which chronicles the true story of a football team's recovery after most of its players are killed in a plane crash.
All you need to do is watch the two-minute preview, and you will know, before you buy a ticket, that the film, from director Joseph McGinty Nichol, abides by the four unalienable rules of the campy sports movie. First: a team must be challenged. Second: a team must face the challenge under the leadership of a coach who is tough and prickly, but fair. Third: the action must culminate in an all-or-nothing attempt to win the Big Game. Fourth: this climax must include a nauseating overdose of slow-motion photography and a heavy sprinkling of tactlessly overwrought music (preferably Motown).
This formula for movies about sports worked when it was new. It has since been worn into obscurity. Indeed, the only thing in "We Are Marshall" that surprises the audience, at least initially, is Matthew McConaughey, an unlikely choice for the role of head coach. But the actor's self-satisfied charm wears on the audience fast, and by the end of the film we are ready to walk out of the theater.
We also meet Matthew Fox, who plays assistant coach Red Dawson. Fox, throughout the film, manages to look intense and concerned, and not much else. (Anyone who thought that he was capable of any variability after his leading role on ABC's "Lost" is in for a rude awakening.)
Even David Straithairn, who received high acclaim for his portrayal of Edward R. Murrow in the Oscar-nominated "Good Night and Good Luck," couldn't save this film. Straithairn, who plays the president of Marshall College, has undeniable gravitas, but it's hard to recognize most of the time thanks to Jamie Linden's awkward screenplay.
It's no shock that "Marshall" bombed at the box office its opening weekend. But does this film's failure demonstrate that moviegoers have finally lost their appetites for shamelessly formulaic sports movies? It seems, at least for now, that the answer is yes, which is unwelcome news, not only for McConaughey, but for the many directors like Nichol who seem to think that all you need to do is throw the words "true story" into the preface of a film, and you will suddenly have a movie that deserves to be taken seriously.
Peter W. Fulham is a junior at Canisius High School.
>We Are Marshall
Review: One star (out of four)