The Rock invades Rocky territory in Gridiron Gang -- and leapfrogs straight to the sequels. He plays the real-life juvenile probation officer Sean Porter, who molded some of the toughest residents at California's Camp Kilpatrick, a "last chance" facility for juvenile felons, into a football team.
Poignancy and danger should suffuse everything that happens on screen. The problem is, the way director Phil Joanou (Final Analysis) and screenwriter Jeff Maguire (In the Line of Fire) shaped the material, it follows the beats and rhythms of underdog-sports movies, not life. I fondly recall an old Mad magazine parody of boxing films in which the fighter's trainer revives him in the final round with words something like, "Mary is here, and your mother forgives you!" In Gridiron Gang, wide receiver Kenny Bates (Trevor O'Brien) can't even get his mom to stay for an entire visiting hour without fighting with her. Running back Willie Weathers (Jade Yorker) writes letters to a nice, college-bound girl whose father has been intercepting them. But you suspect that Bates' mom and Weathers' gal will be there for the final game. Coach Porter had father issues just as Willie does, and you know that he'll resolve them only during a heart-to-heart with Willie.
Gridiron Gang (Sony) Starring Dwayne Johnson (The Rock), Xzibit. Directed by Phil Joanou. Rating PG-13. Time 125 minutes