Frédéric Auburtin's absurdly hagiographic drama United Passions purports to tell the history of FIFA -- the world's governing institution for soccer -- from its 1904 founding up until its announcement of South Africa as the host country for the 2010 World Cup. Auburtin takes pains to paint FIFA in the most glowing possible light, eliding entirely controversies that have dogged it for decades.
Most of the film's $20 million budget, of which FIFA reportedly funded 90 percent, appears to have been lavished on a name cast, presumably to lend the project some credibility. Yet the major players uniformly fail to bring their A-games. A porcine Gérard Depardieu is unusually and frustratingly restrained as mild-mannered World Cup originator Jules Rimet. Sam Neill is epically miscast as Brazilian João Havelange, who served as FIFA president from 1974 to 1998. Havelange is the closest United Passions comes to a three-dimensional character -- a faintly Machiavellian figure with a deep-seated desire to globalize the sport. Yet Neill gives him a comically distracting Liam Neeson–from-Taken accent and the leering air of an uncle with a dark secret. And what to make of poor Tim Roth, who appears as Sepp Blatter, the Swiss watchmaker who ascended the ranks to succeed Havelange?
As propaganda, United Passions is as subtle as an anvil to the temple. As drama, it's not merely ham-fisted, but pork-shouldered, bacon-wristed, and sausage-elbowed. The script is essentially a press release with speaking parts and exposition. The "action" is a dulling catalog of frictionless, uninteresting administrative scenarios captured with blandly glossy photography and slathered in a syrupy orchestral score.