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Review: 'American Underdog' delivers upon Kurt Warner's greatness

Posted Friday, February 25, 2022 at 11:33 AM Central
Last updated Friday, February 25, 2022 at 11:34 AM Central

by John Couture

Back in 1999, my fantasy football team was reeling. It was a keeper league that I helped to create with a bunch of buddies in college and the Moose Jaw Mullets were hadn't sniffed the playoffs in several seasons.

As anyone who has ever played fantasy football will tell you, having a dominant quarterback is next to godliness and usually ensures a competitive season. Needless to say, we had a rotten run of luck at QB and given that Trent Green suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the preseason, the Mullets took a flier on an unknown Arena football hero named Kurt Warner.

The rest, as they say, is fantasy history.

The Mullets enjoyed three fantasy championships in the next five seasons and the once beleaguered franchise was suddenly a dynasty in our ranks. Sadly, they will never make a movie about The Mullets' road to fantasy glory, but we all knew it was a matter of time before Kurt Warner's story would show up on the big screen.

American Underdog tells the inspirational true story of Kurt Warner (Zachary Levi), who went from stocking shelves at a supermarket to a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Fame quarterback. The film centers on Warner's unique story and years of challenges and setbacks that could have derailed his aspirations to become an NFL player -- but just when his dreams seemed all but out of reach, it is only with the support of his wife, Brenda (Anna Paquin) and the encouragement of his family, coaches, and teammates that Warner perseveres and finds the strength to show the world the champion that he already is. American Underdog is an uplifting story that demonstrates that anything is possible when you have faith, family and determination.

As you can see in the interview snippet with Warner below, everyone knew that it was only a matter of time for "The Kurt Warner Story" to get the Hollywood treatment. Of course, when you start to go through the trials and tribulations that he actually went through, you come to realize that no producer would ever film it as is.

Every note would be, "this is too unbelievable" and yet, that's what makes this story so amazing and sensational. He really did resort to bagging groceries at his local supermarket before he finally got his shot at the NFL. The real hard part in bringing the story to life on the silver screen would be finding two actors to portray Kurt and his wife Brenda who were both equally larger than life in reality.

Without being able to find actors able to capture their unique relationship and qualities, the film would be a disaster long before a single scene was shot. Thankfully, they knocked it out of the park with Zachary Levi and Anna Paquin.

When Zachary Levi first got his start as the lead on Chuck, the lanky geek character was pretty much the antithesis to what Kurt Warner was. But, when Zachary beefed up for his role in Shazam!, it all started to fall into place.

Not only was there an uncanny likeness shared between the two, but their personalities and nearly universal appeal seemed to indicate that this was a match made in heaven. Well, aside from the natural football ability, but that's what Hollywood magic is for.

Levi's performance is one of the best of his young career and the fact that he was able to seamlessly portray one of the NFL's best is a testament to his acting chops. With his body already bulked up for his superhero exploits, learning to throw a perfect spiral came effortlessly for the young actor.

But beyond the looks, he really was able to capture Warner's more reserved personality and deep spiritual nature that transcended everything that he was able to accomplish on the field. Given that we literally watched Kurt's story play out in front of our eyes a mere 20 years ago, we weren't going to be fooled easily.

Zachary Levi not only answered the call, but delivered in a way that made the audience truly believe that he was capable of becoming a Hall of Fame football player.

Speaking of performances, what more could we say about Anna Paquin that hasn't already been shared a million times. She is able to deliver a wide-range of emotions and yet, I don't think we've ever seen her turn in such a nuanced performance in her career.

As those who lived through the Kurt Warner era will tell you, Brenda Warner (and her infamous haircut) was as much a part of "The Kurt Warner Story" as Kurt himself, so finding someone to fill her shoes was no easy task. Thankfully, Paquin was up to the challenge and her turn as Brenda really sealed the deal on this movie. Without it, American Underdog could have easily just been another movie of the week film that was more paint-by-numbers than true artistic flourish.

Sure, American Underdog falls easily into every sports movie cliché, but that's only because Kurt's true story was larger than life. Again, no producer would have greenlit this movie due to the over-the-top sports clichés, but it was all a true story and American Underdog plays more like a historical record than an uplifting sports movie.

Much like other uplifting sports films, American Underdog will enjoy continuous replays from now to the end of time and that's OK with us. It is worthy of being seen again and again because the performances suck you in and don't let go.

American Underdog is now available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD.