Any Given Sunday

Has Oliver Stone burned out on political cinema? There was a time when his movies seemed to matter — when his vision, from the muckraking Salvador to the notorious Natural Born Killers, turned an ugly funhouse mirror on the American nightmare. Two years ago, Stone made the offbeat film noir U-Turn, which for him amounted to goofing off. It was, admittedly, a relief to see him just settle down and have fun with a movie and not try to rock our conscience. But in Stone’s new one, Any Given Sunday, he continues to goof off — this time at very tedious length.

Stone’s JFK warranted its three-hour-plus running time, as did his Nixon. But what made him think a movie about a fictional football team — especially one with such a banal story — needed to sprawl for two hours and forty-two minutes? Any Given Sunday is about Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino), head coach of the Miami Sharks, who are on a four-game losing streak. The Sharks’ reliable veteran quarterback (Dennis Quaid, equally as reliable) has been sidelined, and the reins pass to an untested rookie, Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx). Willie is soon making up his own plays and “putting points on the board.” He gets a big head, while Tony frets and gives the young hotshot many grim talkings-to. Meanwhile, team owner Cameron Diaz, who inherited the Sharks from Daddy, wants Tony to keep Willie on the field against Tony’s (and pretty much everyone else’s) better judgment.

Pacino injects the movie with what little life it has — getting his voice up in his familiar airhorn bellow; pacing on the sidelines like a dark-maned lion; giving many, many inspirational halftime speeches for which Stone and co-writer John Logan should get down on their knees and thank Pacino for selling so effectively. James Woods is around, too, for about five minutes total; he plays an unscrupulous team doctor who just squirts the players with whatever drugs they need to keep going, and he performs the same function on the movie in his few scenes. But then he’s fired, to be replaced by an atypically dull Matthew Modine as a younger and more idealistic doctor whose crises of conscience amount to nothing.

I think you’d have to be a very undiscriminating football die-hard to get anything out of Any Given Sunday. As drama, it’s dead in the water; as a football movie, it fails because Stone’s by-now-tiresome jumpy camera never lets you see what’s going on in any of the games. The editing whizbang here makes Natural Born Killers look like Barry Lyndon; the movie should be called Any Given Shot. Stone jacks up the fake excitement with lots of punishing techno and rock-rap music, as if trying to jolt us awake (I nodded off several times anyway). The football sequences play like hyperactive commercials for a PlayStation football game. The style combines incoherence and aggression, a deadly mix.

Why did Oliver Stone want to do this movie? Maybe, at age 53, he’s feeling his oats and wanted to dive headfirst into a revivifying pool of testosterone — a king-hell Guy Movie (they should pump aftershave fumes into the theater to make the experience complete), where men are men and women are either scolds, whores, or bitches. (Stone has seldom known how to portray women, but Any Given Sunday is real neanderthal time.) The movie may be a sort of cinematic dose of Viagra for Stone — he’s trying to prove he can keep pounding harder and longer than anyone. I think he also sees himself as a cross between the beleaguered coach Tony and the agonized old quarterback played by Dennis Quaid. He may consider himself a man’s man drowning in a world of young man’s rules, and flailing frantically to stay afloat. It’s as exhausting for us as it must be for him. The best football movie — North Dallas Forty, a powerful example of everything this movie isn’t — came in at 119 minutes. Someone should have told Stone he could make a decent football movie at under two hours and still be considered macho. Size doesn’t matter, Oliver.

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