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‘A sports movie worth seeing’: What film critics are saying about ‘American Underdog’

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Anna Paquin as Brenda Warner and Zachary Levi as Kurt Warner in “American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story.” 

Anna Paquin as Brenda Warner and Zachary Levi as Kurt Warner in “American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story.” 

Michael Kubeisy, Lionsgate

Kurt Warner’s inspirational true story, “American Underdog” may not be an instant sports classic on the big screen, but audiences are still paying to watch it and some critics say it’s a movie worth seeing.

American Underdog” is a biopic that chronicles Warner’s unlikely rise from struggling, undrafted grocery store worker and family man to star NFL quarterback, winning a Super Bowl and reaching the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The faith-based film also features Warner’s relationship with his wife, Brenda, and her her children. Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin and Dennis Quaid star in the film, which opened in theaters on Christmas Day. Brothers Andy and Jon Erwin directed the movie.

Andy Erwin said he learned “what produces the heart of a champion” while making the movie.

“We felt it was a unique opportunity to tell a story that was mainstream and broadly relatable without having to apologize for who they are and what they believe,” Erwin told the Religion News Service. “We worked really hard to blend that world in a way that feels as authentic as the world it comes from.”

What Kurt Warner said about ‘American Underdog’

Warner, who appeared in three Super Bowls across 12 NFL seasons, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017. Since retiring from the game, he has worked as an analyst the NFL Network.

Warner shared his thoughts on the movie in a Lionsgate news release, according to the Des Moines Register.

“This is the story we wanted to tell — and what I believe will impact audiences,” Warner said in the news release. ”People should be ready to step into new and bigger things, and to not allow their circumstances to define them.”

Former Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, left, tries to elude Minnesota’s Jared Allen (69) in a 2008 NFL game in Glendale, Arizona.

In this file photo, former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, left, tries to elude Minnesota Vikings defender Jared Allen (69) in a 2008 NFL game in Glendale, Arizona. Warner’s inspirational life is told in the new film, “American Underdog.”

Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

What Zachary Levi said about playing Kurt Warner

Levi told Newsweek he remembered watching Warner lead the Rams to a Super Bowl victory on Jan. 30, 2000. It helped to prepare him for the role.

“I knew Kurt’s story. I saw it in real time when I was a slightly younger man and when he was a slightly younger man,” Levi told Newsweek. “Remembering where I was when I was watching him play that Super Bowl. And now transporting myself into his actual shoes and being him. And then between takes on the sidelines playing catch with Kurt Warner on set, like all of that was crazy weird.”

How audiences are reacting to ‘American Underdog’

“American Underdog” was among the top five highest-grossing films in the nation on its opening weekend, grossing nearly $6 million, according to Boxofficemojo.com.

The one-hour, 52-minute PG film also has a Tomatometer score of 75% and an audience rating of 98% on rottentomatoes.com. The movie also has an IMBD rating of 7.5 out of 10.

What critics are saying about ‘American Underdog’

  • “This isn’t one for the sports movie pantheon. But it’s still a sports movie worth seeing, if only for the St. Louis stuff,” wrote Benjamin Hochman, a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “And while the movie might be fit for the cheese section of the Hy-Vee, the biggest takeaway is a genuine one — the film reminds you how a strong teammate can make you stronger.”
  • “This is a movie about virtue, commitment, and faith, and how if you possess and diligently maintain those qualities, good things will happen for you, if not immediately, then eventually,” wrote Matt Zoller Seitz for RogerEbert.com
  • “Warner’s story is inspirational but intricate, and this wan film struggles to balance simple storytelling with the complexities of the sport,” wrote Teo Bugbee for The New York Times. “The Erwin’s film presents a parable of how love and hard work can lead a hero down a prosperous, predetermined path. It’s a pleasant narrative, but it feels like the picture-book version of a more complicated story.”

Dick Vermeil’s second appearance in a movie

Dick Vermeil was the coach of the St. Louis Rams when Warner emerged as the quarterback. Vermeil is played by Quaid in “American Underdog.”

It wasn’t Vermeil’s first experience on the big screen. He also coached the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1981 Super Bowl, and was previously portrayed by Greg Kinnear in the 2006 film, “Invincible.”

Vermeil, now 85, gave Quaid thumbs-up for his performance, according to USAToday.com.

“It’s so different when you see somebody playing you — you don’t quite know how to react. It sort of makes me nervous,” Vermeil said in the article. ”But I think Dennis Quaid did a very good job, probably a better job of being me than I do. My wife even said that he did a better job than I do.”

Zachary Levi as Kurt Warner, left, and Dennis Quaid as St. Louis Rams head coach Dick Vermeil in “American Underdog”

Zachary Levi as Kurt Warner, left, and Dennis Quaid as St. Louis Rams head coach Dick Vermeil in “American Underdog.”

Lionsgate