This is another one of those ’80s movies about kids – think Stand by Me, The Goonies, etc. – but it carves its own unique place within that genre. The title character, played by Corey Haim (who later went off the deep end but here was just a little kid with some solid acting chops) is a smart loner who befriends – and falls in love with – the new girl. She’s older and therefore doesn’t regard him as a romantic prospect (though she does appreciate how special he is), particularly because she’s busy falling for Charlie Sheen (in one of his not-bad younger performances). The football aspect of the story, quite prominent in the latter portion of the movie, is something of a misstep. Still, it’s got real heart and good performances from the young leads.
Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis are appealing, and there’s a nugget of an intriguing concept here, but the execution is quite poor: it isn’t scary, it’s rarely tense, the pacing is all wrong, and the special effects aren’t all that special. By the end it’s mostly boring and silly.
Uplifting sports movie doesn’t have any bells or whistles (OK, it has some whistles), just tells its story in a straightforward way with no guile or flash, and that ends up being part of its charm. Gene Hackman is fine as the protagonist, a basketball coach looking to redeem himself in a small town. I was amused by how soon we got our first training montage. Dennis Hopper is excellent as the alcoholic basketball expert Hackman’s character hires as assistant coach, and his relationship with his son (one of the players) is played very nicely. Definitely worth a watch.
I didn’t end up liking this as much as I wanted to, but it still has a lot going for it: beautiful scenery; a meaty subject; a good mix of drama, action, and politico-religious intrigue; and a solid lead performance from Jeremy Irons (Robert De Niro – top-billed but not really the central character – is passable but doesn’t excel). To some degree it falls into the trap of idealising and over-romanticising the purity and simplicity of how the ‘natives’ live, thereby reinforcing the noble savage stereotype. It also fails to deliver the emotional punch it should, given the tragic events that transpire. I suspect this is due to the focus shifting between the less interesting De Niro character (and his redemption story, which is marginally engaging at best), the more interesting Irons character, and the broader story of the fate of the Mission itself. In the end, it was worth watching, but the only message I could take from it was a simple one I’ve learned before: people are arseholes.