"Gridiron Gang" has neither the warm fuzziness of "Invincible" nor the bone-crunching thrills of "Friday Night Lights." And at two hours, it feels long, some of that due to the tiresome music video-style direction of Phil Joanou ("Heaven's Prisoners," "U2: Rattle and Hum").
Still, this inspirational material is appealing, and if nothing else, it's a considerable improvement over Adam Sandler's remake of "The Longest Yard," which is similar, at least in a few superficial respects.
Pro wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars in this drama, which was inspired by a 1993 documentary of the same title. He plays Sean Porter, a former football star who's now working at a juvenile-detention center in Los Angeles.
Like his co-workers, Sean is looking for ways to inspire the teens he's supervising, many of whom are gang members or involved in the drug trade. So he decides to organize a football team, hoping it will give his young charges some much-needed discipline.
As expected, he encounters some resistance from his higher-ups. And finding opponents to play from local high school teams is nearly impossible.
And when he finally gets past those obstacles, he has just weeks to whip the team into shape. Though he does have one star player Willie Weathers (Jade Yorker), a gang member with some serious speed.
Filmmaker Joanou spends too much time in the set-up, leaving too little time to address the various supporting characters and subplots (particularly, rapper Xzibit's camp-counselor character).
However, Johnson is a charismatic presence and redeems the film to a certain degree. He even tones down his sometimes cartoonish mannerisms, such as the eyebrow lifting and melodramatic intonations. Johnson also has a believable onscreen friendship with Yorker (TV's "Third Watch").
"Gridiron Gang" is rated PG-13 for strong scenes of violence (including gang shootings, brawling and football violence, and vehicular violence), occasional strong profanity (including a usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), use of racial epithets and crude sexual slang terms, and some brief drug content (references). Running time: 120 minutes.