Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:

Title: Undefeated

What, That Sarah Palin Movie? God, no. Dealing with that atrocity once was enough.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four torn ACLs out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Win-deprived high school football team starts winning.

Tagline: "Character will be revealed."

Better Tagline: "LIke Friday Night Lights, only without all the boring teen romance."

How Would The Team Have Done If Sarah Palin Was The Coach? Hard to say, since she most likely would have quit with three games left in the season.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Situated in poverty-stricken North Memphis, Tennessee, the Manassas High School football team hasn't won a playoff game since the school's founding in 1899. Bill Courtney, in his sixth year coaching the team, is hoping he's finally got a contender. The documentary chronicles the school's improbable (and maybe inevitable) 2009 season and also focuses on the stories of three players, undersized but spirited tackle Montrail "Money" Brown, troubled defensive back Chavis Daniels, and O.C. Daniels, a left tackle who might just have what it takes to play at a higher level.

"Critical" Analysis: This isn't exactly a timely review, considering Undefeated got its development deal from The Weinstein Company after last year's South by Southwest film festival, drew critical reviews in limited release and -- oh yeah -- won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature less than a week ago.

So why are you just now getting to see it? What, you thought the fourth-largest city in the country should've gotten a premiere date less than eleven and a half months after the movie's festival debut? Talk to Harvey.

The real question is: Does it live up to the hype? Meaning, alternately, is it as worthy of accolades as other esteemed Oscar doc winners like Taxi to the Dark Side or...March of the Penguins? The answer: mostly. Even when I finally got to see this back in November (not to rub it in), Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin's unlikely underdog story was riding a groundswell of popular opinion. It's sometimes difficult to make a detached analysis when echoes of five-star reviews are ringing in your ears.

Alternately, advance hype can poison the well in the opposite fashion. When talking to people about The Blair Witch Project, for example, I can draw a pretty clear line between positive and negative opinion based on how early in the film's run they saw it.

What worked ever so slightly against Undefeated when I watched it, on the other hand, was fictional precedent. Inspirational and heartfelt as the story is (and it is), it's no exaggeration to say you've seen this scenario play out in almost every football movie ever made. If you'd pitched this as a drama (Friday Night Lights meets The Blind Side, with a little of The Program thrown in for good measure) to Harvey Weinstein, he'd have military pressed you and hurled you off 345 Hudson.

The movie's strength therefore derives from the personalities. Coach Courtney is an unbelievably dedicated man, and this starts to take a toll on his family. Money experiences a crushing setback during filming, which has the unexpected benefit of providing inspiration to the formerly delinquent Chavis (who missed a whole season in juvie). And O.C. ends up moving in with an assistant coach so he can focus on his entrance exams. All this with the backdrop of a historic Manassas football season.

Undefeated is an engrossing and, at times, uplifting film. How positively you respond to it might depend on how jaded you've become to the concept of "uplifiting."

Undefeated is in theaters today. Well, one theater, anyway.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar