|Charles Stone III
|26 january 2024
The Underdoggs comes to the screen with the ambitious premise of infusing the classic story of the sports underdog with a gritty, nauseating vision. Headlined by Snoop Dogg, who assumes the dual role of star and producer, the film introduces us to Jaycen Two Js Jennings, a once-glorious NFL player whose career takes an unexpected turn when he becomes coach of a team of young soccer players. While the concept promises a unique flavor in a familiar narrative, the execution fails to deliver a revolutionary or memorable experience.
The fundamental problem lies in the choice of Snoop Dogg for the lead role, Jaycen. Known for his laid-back charm and natural humor, Snoop dogg struggles to convincingly embody an arrogant, self-absorbed character. The transition from bitter former athlete to caring coach lacks the depth and authenticity necessary for a convincing narrative. The film's attempts at tendentious humor, marked by an excess of profanity on the part of both adults and children, seem forced and, at times, elicit exasperation. Despite the intention to push boundaries, the dialogue often comes across as lazy rather than genuinely provocative.
Supporting actors, notably Tika Sumpter as Cherise, Jaycen's ex-girlfriend, and Mike Epps as Kareem, his former high school classmate, inject some humor into the narrative. However, their performances don't fully compensate for the film's reliance on formula and cliché. The film's critique of genre conventions, with characters recognizing similarities to The Mighty Ducks, fails to deliver anything truly new. The pacing, marked by disastrous training montages and predictable game sequences, also contributes to the overall impression of blandness.
Despite these flaws, The Underdoggs manages to offer a few genuinely funny moments and commendable efforts to inject social commentary on class and race struggles into youth sport. The film, while occasionally entertaining, lacks the bite and innovation to stand out in the crowded field of sports comedies. Audiences get a glimpse of Jaycen's sports history, from high school stardom to fall from grace, but Snoop Dogg's performance fails to convey the emotional depth needed to attach oneself to the character's journey.
Director Charles Stone III, known for films like Drumline and Paid in Full, makes little effort to make the film more engaging. The soccer action is generic and the conspicuous product placements sometimes turn the film into a commercial. The lack of a clear direction - it's unclear whether this is a daring R-rated comedy or a family film - adds to the film's identity crisis. The final segment highlights Snoop Dogg's soccer program for underprivileged kids, pointing to a potentially more inspiring narrative that the film fails to delve into.
The Underdoggs is a harmless, occasionally entertaining film that struggles to leave a lasting impression. While it may offer a few laughs and commendable efforts at social commentary, it lacks the innovation and execution necessary to stand out in the competitive landscape of sports comedies. The film's qualities are overshadowed by its predictability, forced humor and a general lack of depth in character portrayal. It's a missed opportunity to offer a truly memorable version of a sports underdog's story.
Directed by Charles Stone III
Written by Danny Segal, Isaac Schamis
Produced by Kenya Barris, Mychelle Deschamps, Jonathan Glickman, Constance Schwartz-Morini, Snoop Dogg
With Snoop Dogg, Tika Sumpter, Andrew Schulz, Mike Epps, George Lopez
Edited by Paul Millspaugh
Music: Joseph Shirley
Production companies: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Khalabo Ink Society, Death Row Pictures, SMAC Entertainment
Distributed by Amazon MGM Studios
Release date: January 26, 2024 (U.S., France)
Running time: 96 minutes
Viewed: January 20, 2024 (Screener presse)