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We Are Marshall

A Tale of Pigskin Pride

In a perfect world, there would be a tribunal of elders to judge those artists desirous of single-name status. Prince? A worthy candidate. Madonna? A fine addition to the club. McG? Well, wait just a minute. Who is McG, and what has he done? He directed the Charlie’s Angels movies? That’s it?

No, not exactly. Three years after unleashing Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, which one critic charitably dismissed as “the death of cinema”, Mr. McG (the Artist Formerly Known as Joseph McGinty Nichol) has returned with his most serious work to date, We Are Marshall. And how serious it is! Here, he takes the real-life story of a West Virginia college town rocked by the sudden, tragic loss of its football team in a plane crash and spins it into an allegory for post-9/11 America. The allegory itself isn’t much of a stretch -- kudos to McG! -- but the storytelling is shamelessly manipulative, weepy through three quarters until the fourth-quarter uplift of the Big Game.

McG’s approach is borrowed from the emotional playbook that has produced many tales of inspiring athleticism, and if he’s learned some small degree of subtlety, it’s out of necessity. (A flashy, MTV-style homage to the victims of a 1970 disaster simply wouldn’t do.) There are fine performances, fortunately, from reliable veterans like David Strathairn, on hand as the college president who initially wants to erase football from Marshall’s repertoire, and TV stars like Matthew Fox, of "Lost", and Ian McShane, who as "Deadwood’s" Al Swearengen did more to popularize the word “cocksucker” than anyone since… well, just anyone.

The key performance, of course, is Matthew McConaughey’s as Jack Lengyel, the fast-talking, relentlessly upbeat coach who is determined to resuscitate the football program with his positive energy and motivational soliloquies. It is a role perfectly suited to People’s Sexiest Man Alive, whose eyes burn with conviction on cue. But the movie lays it on a bit thick. It takes a story rich with potential and drapes it in a familiar litany of clichés that undercut its dramatic power. Flawed as it is, it’s a step in the right direction for McG, but he has a long way to go before earning that silly name.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars