Any Given Sunday: So bad It’s Good.
This week I’m going to deviate from the course that I’ve taken for the last few weeks. Lately my focus has been on Oscar nominees of years past. But, with Superbowl 50 taking place this week I decided to turn my attention to a football themed movie. That would be Oliver Stone’s 1999 film, Any Given Sunday.
What I Remembered: When this movie was released I went to see it in the theater with a female friend of mine. At the time I was a big fan of Oliver Stone’s past films, particularly JFK and Nixon. I thought that Mr. Stone was an exceptionally talented writer and director. Due to this good feeling, I was interested to see how America’s most political filmmaker would approach the world of professional football. By the time the film was finished, I was disappointed and frankly a little traumatized by all the debaucherous drinking, drug taking and sex I saw along with the nature of the cutthroat world I had seen for the last few hours. As a result, I couldn’t gage the quality of the film and its performances. Thus, I largely forgot about it until recently.
With the 50th Superbowl on the horizon, I thought that I would give it another look. I found a film that had a great many flaws and deficiencies. But, for me it occupies a space very few films do. In short, it’s so bad it’s good.
For those of you whom might wonder what this means, a film I define as “so bad that it’s good,” is one that has a good cast and director, but a poor script and is so inadequately executed that in can be laughed at. That being said, when watching the film you don’t feel as if anyone involved with it saw it that way, as they were making it. Everyone it appears to be working their hearts out, which fills one with I’m ashamed to say, a certain measure of schadenfreude.
The Story: Any Given Sunday centers around a short time period in the season of a football team called the Miami Sharks. The Sharks are members of a professional football league that rivals the NFL, but has similar popularity, influence, and fans. The movie’s main stars are the Sharks aging quarterback Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid), it’s head coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino), it’s owner Christine Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz), it’s star running back Julian Washington and its third string quarterback, Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx). It opens with Cap Rooney receiving a vicious sack from the defense of the team the Sharks are playing at home that week. Cap is seriously hurt by the tackle and his second string immediate replacement is sent in. But, when the second string quarterback himself goes down with a bad injury, all eyes turn to Willie Beaman. Although having played in the league for six seasons, Beaman is largely unknown to most of the league and most of the members of his own team including D’Amato. The rest of the film follows Beaman’s attempt to handle the role that has been placed in front of him and how it will affect himself the team and those around him.
Technical Details: Despite the fact that it was helmed and partly written by a celebrated filmmaker, and had truly talented, excellent actors Any Given Sunday had a lot wrong with it. First of all, the script was weak as the viewer was forced to dive into the world of the Miami Sharks with no backstory given or exposition being told. Some more was revealed as the movie progressed, but not enough to truly understand certain plot points like the type of team the Sharks were before Christine Pagniacci who was the daughter of the deceased previous owner, took over. In addition to this, it contained a great many jump cuts, which made it a little hard to follow. Furthermore, whether it may be true to life in professional football or not, all of the players were portrayed as drug abusing, adulterous, overpaid neanderthals, the coaches as alcoholic loners, and the owner as merciless and money hungry. All of this felt over played and over done by the time the film concluded. Finally, despite the fact that such heavyweights as Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, and James Woods were in it and not too terrible, the acting was pretty bad with most of the performers in it offering one dimensional, less than stellar performances.
Even though Oliver Stone’s past films may have twisted history a little many of them were superbly executed. Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, this one was the start of a downward slide by him that has yet to be stopped. Maybe the fact that according to Eric Hamburg’s book about working with Stone called, JFK, Nixon, Oliver Stone And Me, the latter was chasing women, partying excessively, snorting cocaine, and popping viagra throughout the shooting of Any Given Sunday, was what made it so disappointing.
I suppose the one redeeming quality to the film was its portrayal of football itself. The fictional games in it were fast paced, well- choreographed and interesting to watch and the scenes in the huddle were both funny and unnerving. With my football playing experience limited to playground games of two hand touch when I was a kid, I was shocked how utterly brutal and violent football might be at the professional level.
Having said all of this though, if you can accept the fact that you’re going to see a bad movie and start laughing at it, it becomes very enjoyable to watch. This especially true when hearing some of the saltiest, foul language I’ve ever heard on film and depiction of the wild drug and sex parties many members of the fictional Sharks partake in.
End Credits: Any Given Sunday was not a good film when it came out and still is not a good one today. But, it is watchable and definitely something anyone planning to see this year’s Superbowl might want to sit down with before the big game. This is because it adds a whole new dimension to the real life action you see on TV or in a stadium when you watch football because it leaves one wondering, “Is this really what it’s like?” Maybe if the movie had had the cooperation of the National Football League it could have been better and addressed the world of professional football in a more realistic, sympathetic way. We’ll never know if the league’s lack of involvement or sanctioning of the project is what made it subpar or if the many attributes it lacks due to an unclear vision on the part of Stone and his team of collaborators. In the final analysis what can be said about Any Given Sunday is what I wrote at the beginning of this piece, it’s so bad it’s good.