According to inspirational sports movies, winning demands you train hard, play with heart, be a team, and not care about winning. So it goes in the sturdy, crowd-pleasing When the Game Stands Tall, a profile in saintliness puffed up from a true story: the Northern California Catholic school whose football team enjoyed a 151-game winning streak in the early 2000s. Of course, one of the lessons that coach Bob Ladouceur (a stoic Jim Caviezel) teaches on-screen is that winning isn't everything, an assertion that's true in real life and even moving in Neil Hayes's book about Ladouceur but seems ridiculous in a movie that only exists because those De La Salle High School teams won so often. Here, where each football scene is juiced with Hollywood music and stunt work, as the movie tells it, Ladouceur stuffed his student jocks with life lessons and Bible verses, inspiring them always to make the "perfect effort" rather than aspire to something so earthly as victory. (He also beseeches them to hit harder at the snap, just as Jesus would have.)
Scott Marshall Smith's script reduces to a confused parable the genuinely fascinating story of the real Ladouceur's ambivalence toward that streak -- and a bigger-than-football tragedy his team faced in 2004. There’s little arc here to what happens off the field. The coach realizes in the first act, after a health scare, that he has spent too much time on football and too little with his family. His team suffers some setbacks, but everything is righted in a couple training montages, and, Ladouceur never once experiences a moment of doubt ... or generates one of drama.