Rated R - Running Time: 2:42 - Released 12/22/99

Oliver Stone is a very arty director; I have loved his thoughtful touch in films like Platoon, JFK, Natural Born Killers, and Nixon. His latest effort, Any Given Sunday, lends his expertise to the game of football, and casts into a stark light Stone's legendary penchant for excess. Written by Stone and John Logan, based on the novel by Pat Toomay, it doesn't really break any new ground on the subject, it is just a basic look at pro football falling very much along the lines of Jerry Maguire or Ted Kotcheff's 1979 film North Dallas Forty. It would make a fair film for lovers of the game if it were an appropriate length. But Stone's directing is just as self-indulgent as ever, with tons of close-up faces, tons of pretty, poetic images, and tons of unnecessary art footage to drag the running time out to a proper Stone film length.

Any Given Sunday doesn't disappoint from an acting standpoint; with a cast like this it could hardly miss. Al Pacino is the crusty old coach (stereotype), Cameron Diaz the tough-as-nails young owner (stereotype), and Jamie Foxx is the arrogant upstart quarterback (stereotype) filling in for Dennis Quaid as the older, tried-and-true-but-physically-not-up-to-it-anymore quarterback (stereotype). These actors, and others in the supporting cast, put forth excellent delivery of what there is in the Stone/Logan sreenplay, resulting in a football film that strives to be more but doesn't make it — Stone can't muster enough meaning in the script to justify all his pretentious directing choices. No amount of clever cutting and spectacular scenery can make up for the fact that it's a hum-drum story we have seen many times before, with characters cut out of an old-fashioned play book.

The Miami Sharks, coached by the once-great Tony D'Amato, are suffering through one of their worst seasons in years. Although they won the league's highest trophy a few years back, they have struggled all year long and are on a four-game losing streak. When their quarterback, Jack "Cap" Rooney (Quaid) suffers a serious back injury and then their second QB is dispatched soon after, D'Amato must go to his third-string choice, the young and inexperienced Willie Beamen (Foxx). Though terribly nervous, he makes a good showing, and soon is starting (and winning) every game. While Cap recuperates, Beamen becomes famous as the rookie who saved the team.

He is not only noticed by millions of fans, but by the team's owner, Christina Pagniacci (Diaz), who looks at the game completely from a dollars-and-cents point of view. Christina, daughter of Tony's now-deceased buddy, runs things more aggressively than the old man did, and Tony is more than a little put off by her controlling style. As the playoffs approach, and Beamen's celebrity mounts, Christina makes it known that she wants him to start. But the new star has become so cocky he has alienated the entire team, and Tony wants Cap back.

See what I mean about the story not justifying all the artsy imagery? I mean, it's just another run-of-the-mill football story. Still, it is helped immeasurably with supporting performances by James Woods as the team doctor more interested in being shown the money than in the health of the team, LL Cool J as the team's golden receiver, and John C. McGinley as the sports reporter who feeds Beamen's inflated ego with every broadcast. Overall, Stone's salute to the gridiron (which features himself as a TV sportscaster) is well-shot, well-acted, and reasonably exciting, but it ultimately seems to be making a mountain out of a mole hill. ****

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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