In 1990, coaches Sean Porter and Malcolm Moore took the Kilpatrick Mustangs--a football team of hard-core juvenile offenders from California's Camp Kilpatrick juvenile detention center--through their inaugural season, in which they reached the regional championships. In 1993, an Emmy-winning documentary, GRIDIRON GANG, aired on U.S. television. In this fictionalized version of the same name, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars as Porter, the coach who uses sports as a means to instill self-esteem into a group or boys for whom crime is a way of life. A former troubled youth who used football as a means to stay off of the streets, Porter, along with Malcolm Moore (Xibit) now presides over Camp Kilpatrick, where the inmates are gang members, murderers, and drug dealers. Among them are Willie Weathers (Jade York), a gang member doing time for a botched act of revenge. Showing that old rivalries hold true even away from the streets, fellow inmate and rival gang member Calvin Owens (David Thomas) won't let Willie forget that they are sworn enemies. But once Porter introduces football as an outlet, the common goal of winning unites them in ways that no one expected. Sports films are not known for harboring O-Henry-like twists at their conclusions, and GRIDIRON GANG is no exception, but director Phil Joanou (STATE OF GRACE) keeps the proceedings gritty (especially for a PG-13 rating), giving us not only the uplifting and exciting football sequences, but also a handful of heart-pounding--and somewhat graphic--scenes of gang violence, and former Yes member Trevor Rabin's effective score is a nice alternative to the typical pop soundtrack. Not all sweetness and light, GRIDIRON GANG is fine addition to the realm of cinematic sports, leavening the sap with a copious counter-dose of realism.
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