Champions is made for people looking for an uplifting and entertaining two hours at the movies, and it works nicely on that level.

Film Review: Champions

Film Reviews

Director: Bobby Farrelly

Gold Circle Entertainment
In Theaters: 03.10

The feel-good movie tends to be one of the genres where mass audiences differ most from critics and internet hater culture, and I often find that I land somewhere in the middle. While I don’t enjoy feeling manipulated by saccharine, false sentiments, I’ll freely admit to being a bit of a sucker for a formula film with its heart in the right place. Champions fits into this category.

Woody Harrelson stars as Marcus Marakovich, a minor-league basketball coach who is arrested for driving under the influence. A judge sentences Marakovich to 90 hours of community service. Specifically, Marakovich is assigned to serve as coach for the Friends, a team of players with intellectual disabilities who are aspiring to make it to the Special Olympics. Though his surly, loner demeanor and general lack of sensitivity make Marcus seem like a poor fit for the job, he finds himself connecting with the players and caring about them as people. What began as a chore gains a purpose, and together the Friends grow into a winning team with serious prospects.

Champions is as predictable as its description sounds, and as a remake of a Spanish film that stole its premise from The Mighty Ducks, is hardly original. On the other hand, director Bobby Farrelly (the brother who didn’t make Green Book) approaches the material with a strong commitment to inclusive and authentic casting. His desire to provide positive representation rooted in dignity and caring earns a lot of points. 

Mark Rizzo’s script occasionally stoops to some cheap jokes, though it also has a good deal of genuinely funny moments that come organically from well-drawn characters. As someone who comes from a family with a long history of involvement with this community, Champions was admittedly something of an easy sell for me. While the dialogue and plotting feel a bit labored, becoming invested in the characters took no time at all. The brisk pacing and gentle tone make Champions enjoyable even when it relies on clichés and cookie cutter storytelling. Farrelly doesn’t bring much in the way of distinctive visual style, though this is hardly a film that is crying out for Hollywood slickness or innovative technique. 

Harrelson is one of my favorite actors who brings his A-game to everything that he does, and Champions is no exception. The ensemble is quite strong, with Kevin Iannucci (The Best of Enemies, Embattled) standing out as Johnny, a 28 year old with Down syndrome who lives with his mother and sister and forms a bond with Marcus. Iannucci’s charisma and layered characterization make Champions work more than any other single factor. Kaitlyn Olsen (Hacks, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) brings comic presence as Alex, Johnny’s protective older sister who becomes a love interest for Marcus. Joshua Felder, who plays Darius, an athlete at the community center who refuses to play for the team, gets arguably the best moment in the film, as the reveal behind his refusal is a sobering and effective scene that I didn’t see coming.

Champions is made for people looking for an uplifting and entertaining two hours at the movies, and it works nicely on that level. It’s straightforward entertainment with a positive and inclusive message, and that’s enough for me to easily forgive its creative shortcomings and give it a recommendation. –Patrick Gibbs

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