A hot-button story this week, about the University of Missouri football team’s successful campaign to oust the school president, reminds us of how sports can intersect with current events. Sports stopped being “just a game” a long time ago.
By contrast, “My All American” sticks to its true-life tale of a talented, hard-luck individual. It takes place during an interesting time, but it might as well be in la-la land.
This is the story of Freddie Steinmark, who played for the University of Texas in the late 1960s. Steinmark was undersized but overachieving, and he enjoyed real success until illness stopped his sports career.
The movie’s Steinmark is played by Finn Wittrock, an engaging young actor perhaps best known for his role in “American Horror Story.” Wittrock has a tricky part here: He has to play a young guy who’s got almost no faults, and still keep the performance interesting.
Steinmark is taken under the wing of legendary Longhorn football coach Darrell Royal (Aaron Eckhart), who likes the kid’s gung-ho style. But can Steinmark move up the depth chart despite his limited stature?
If you’re wondering about that question, you haven’t seen “Rudy” or “Hoosiers,” two films written by Angelo Pizzo. He makes his directing debut with “My All American,” and follows the sports-movie outline.
Nothing wrong with hitting familiar notes, but here Pizzo spells out every emotion and dramatic point. When it isn’t offscreen football announcers reminding us that we might be watching the game of the century, it’s coaches describing just exactly what it would mean if X happens, at which point X happens, and somebody else says what it meant that X just happened.
Meanwhile, except for the presence of a few unpleasant hippies protesting the Vietnam War and a reference to haircuts, there’s basically no sense that the main part of the story is happening in 1969.
Viewers might notice that there are no black players on Texas’s team, but the movie doesn’t mention that UT didn’t integrate its football program until 1970. The film’s goal is to create a pleasant, nostalgic backdrop for Steinmark’s inspirational story.
If you’re a fan of college football history, there’s stuff to enjoy in “My All American.” The heroics of the Texas-Arkansas game in 1969, a season finale between unbeaten teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country — and attended by President Nixon — are treated in detail. The vintage uniforms serve as a reminder of how awful most uniforms look today (thanks a lot, Oregon).
This is the kind of movie they make you watch in grade school. It’s meant to be good for you, and the entry-level script has every cliché in the playbook.
“My All American” (1/2 star)
The story of Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock), an undersized but overachieving player for the University of Texas in the late 1960s, whose career was cut short by illness. Lots of college-football nostalgia here, but the film has every cliché in the playbook. With Aaron Eckhart.
Rating: PG, for subject matter
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Marysville, Meridian, Oak Tree, Cascade Mall