Forget Michael Sheen’s latest bit of high profile mimicry as Brian Clough. The really impressive thing about The Damned United is that it’s that rarest of rare breeds – a half decent movie about football.
Hollywood’s history of celluloid soccerball bungles is a rich one. And football’s perceived lack of drama has led to some enjoyably jazzed up sports movies and preposterous on-pitch performances. Here are our favourites…
Jason Statham - Mean Machine (2001)
Burt Reynolds’ Grid Iron classic The Longest Yard begat this bastardised Brit remake starring Vinnie Jones as a disgraced footballer in the clink.
The Stath plays silently sociopathic goalkeeper The Monk in what basically amounts to a bullet-time heavy, martial arts filled audition for preposto-action fare like The Transporter. In a football film. Weird.[page-break]
Sylvester Stallone - Escape To Victory (1981)
Sly’s turn as the reluctant American goalkeeper playing for Michael Caine’s Nazi-battling band of brothers in this sporty twist on The Great Escape is a guilt-flecked treat.
The cast famously featured real footballers like Pele but the moment of glory invariably fell to the Hollywood star. He saves a key penalty in Rocky-grade super slo-mo and celebrates with an ‘80s jig John Hughes would dismiss as “too corny.”
Stephen Graham - The Damned United (2009)
OK, so there’s nothing wrong with the man who breathed terrifying life into This Is England’s Combo playing ‘70s bruiser Billy Bremner.
But that ludicrous ginger wig Stephen has to wear should have been ditched straight away. Lord knows how Michael Sheen kept a straight face during takes. It looks like something Mick Hucknall’s cat coughed up.[page-break]
Sean Bean - When Saturday Comes (1996)
Mr Bean lends his “ee by gum” acting chops to this craptacular about a factory worker who improbably gets scouted to play for Sheffield United.
Play sports movie cliché bingo as local lad Jimmy struggles with alcoholism – tick – argues with his pregnant girlfriend – tick – scowls at stuff – double tick – and boozes the night before a big trial – house!
Kuno Becker - Goal (2005)
The Mexican telenovela dreamboat played plucky South American soccer star Santiago Nunez in what’s essentially a series of extended Adidas adverts.
The young scamp meets David Beckham, cosies up to Anna Friel’s wonky accented Geordie nurse – “Eey oop, it’s Santi, like” – and turns “goal face” gurning into an art form.[page-break]
Freddie Prinze Jr - She’s All That (1999)
As trailer voiceover man intones, Zach Siler is the class president, the most popular kid in school and a star soccer player. Woah! What? Soccer player? What kind of jumped up movie high school is this?
Yep, when Zach wasn’t trying to de-ugly the not remotely hideous Rachael Leigh Cook, he was taking part in unconvincingly action-packed games of “sawker”.
Will Ferrell - Kicking & Screaming (2005)
He may have been a kiddie soccer coach rather than an actual player but the Ferrellian take on football was wholly ridiculous. And not in a good way.
Will’s well-worn shouty jerk shtick barks orders from the touchline. But he’s less convincing than he was as a figure skater, a NASCAR driver or Nicole Kidman’s boyfriend. And that’s really saying something.
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