Positive basic values, including an implicit pro-life message, underlie the somewhat rough-grained surface of the sports comedy "Champions" (Focus). But the film comes larded with too many vulgar elements and requires too much ethical discernment to be recommended for any but grown viewers.
‘Champions’ has values-based messages
That's a shame because director Bobby Farrelly's adaptation of the 2018 Spanish-language movie "Campeones" is both amusing and touching. It's also a production that can be applauded for employing mentally challenged actors to play an ensemble of characters in the same situation.
Before meeting them, we encounter emotionally isolated basketball coach Marcus (Woody Harrelson). Early scenes find him in a downward spiral.
Though Marcus yearns for a job with the NBA, anger issues have already stymied his career even before they culminate in an on-court confrontation with his boss that results in his being fired. And things only get worse when an attempt to drown his sorrows in the wake of this incident leads to his arrest for drunk driving.
To avoid prison time, Marcus agrees to train the Friends, a local team made up of intellectually disabled youngsters, as a form of community service. He soon bonds with his new charges, who include genial Johnny (Kevin Iannucci), formidable Cosentino (Madison Tevlin) and hoops-skilled Darius (Joshua Felder).
Although he's by far the most gifted of the potential teammates, Darius curtly and resolutely refuses to play for Marcus. His thematically significant reason for doing so only gradually becomes apparent.
While connecting with his new proteges, Marcus also takes a fresh interest in aspiring actress Alex (Kaitlin Olson). As chronicled in the opening sequence, the two shared a dating app-based one-night stand that ended in intense mutual disdain. But they get a chance to reassess their feelings after it turns out that Alex is Johnny's older sister.
Mark Rizzo's script successfully reaps laughs from the array of quirky personalities who comprise the Friends while still respecting each character's fundamental dignity. He also charts Marcus' path toward emotional fulfillment, including the deepening nature of his relationship with Alex.
Despite its upward direction, however, Marcus' journey is not a fit outing for kids or even teens. This is especially true because the screenplay's perspective on human sexuality, although sound in its ultimate goal, is too broadly permissive. So moviegoers require mature moral judgment to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The film contains offscreen casual sex, some premarital sensuality, considerable sexual humor, mature themes, about a half-dozen mild oaths, at least one use of the F-word, frequent crude and crass language and obscene gestures. The OSV News classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @JohnMulderig1.