Just how awful is The Program? Well, I don’t think I have ever witnessed a larger collection of less likable characters involved in more pointless stupidity while somehow managing to reduce the most exciting activity in the universe (college football) to a tedious list of schools, scores, and poorly filmed “big plays.” (If this movie didn’t invent the helmet-point-of-view shot, then it at least consigned it to the scrap heap of imbecilic movie techniques along side most of William Castle’s lame gimmicks like Emergo and Percepto.)
The ESU Timberwolves (we are never told what ESU stands for but I’m guessing something along the lines of Egregiously Stupid Underclassmen from all the cheating and flunking going on) is a football program on the edge!
After a couple of poor seasons, Coach James Caan is told his team needs to get to a bowl game this season because the alumni, boosters, and even the state legislature of East Sardinia or wherever are getting tired of not making it to a second-tier bowl sponsored by the likes of a tire company or restaurant. Clearly, we’re setting Coach up to compromise his values to win at all costs.
But here’s the funny thing (and by “funny” I mean stupid) – Coach doesn’t really do much of anything any differently than before. He recruits one star tailback who has questionable academics, but as the movie makes clear, the entire team is being tutored (except for the snooty current tailback who eventually loses not only his starting job, but also Halle Berry to Omar Epps – ouch!) and the dirtiest player in Coach’s family turns out to be his daughter who takes a test for the backup quarterback!
That’s how dumb this movie is! The coach’s daughter gets expelled for cheating for the backup quarterback! Common sense would dictate that such drama be reserved for the starting quarterback or at least a hotshot wide receiver.
The starting quarterback has his own afterschool special going on though. You see, Heisman candidate Joe Kane is mired in a bout of self-loathing alcoholism heavily seasoned with father-son issues.
Joe may be a great quarterback, but his family life leaves something to be desired. His father lives in a tarpaper shack in the backyard of some smoke-belching factory and Joe’s Christmases involve his dad saying “Merry Fucking Christmas” while hanging his empties on the Christmas tree!
That’s not the worst of it though! Joe’s dad has never gone to see his son play in a game! Joe wonders why this is and the audience is wondering if Joe’s weekly concussions are finally getting the best of his 60 I.Q. The reason your dad never goes to your games is because he’s lit up every day of the week including Saturday!
Luckily for Joe, he doesn’t need his wasted dad streaking during the Orange Bowl to humiliate him because he’s pretty good at that himself. As the child of an alcoholic he feels entitled to be an alcoholic himself and gets into bar fights, busted for DWI, engages in reckless stunts like jumping his motorcycle here and there with Kristy Swanson (and her ugly brown hairdo) on his back, and almost getting run over by a train. Coach does what he can like taking the keys to his motorcycle away, but finally it’s time for some rehab.
Joe’s inpatient stay for four games in the middle of the season couldn’t come at a worse time for the Timberwusses because star defensive player Lattimer has just gone and got himself suspended for attempting to rape a co-ed at a party!
What happened to the win-at-all-costs business this season was supposed to see? Why isn’t Coach out there killing witnesses, kidnapping opposing players, bribing officials, and spiking the football with Flubber? How are we ever going to get to that sterling 6-5 record to become eligible for the prestigious Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl if Coach isn’t willing to do what it takes?
Coach finally gets the hint and appears at a hearing where he halfheartedly asks the college to reinstate backup quarterback Bobby Collins. This movie manages to even fumble all the sports movies clichés we love since backup quarterback Bobby Collins never was much of a presence before he got kicked off the team and mostly because he just plain sucks! Shouldn’t you be compromising your integrity for a player who can throw the ball for 300 yards a game?
Generally, one of the sports movies tropes you should also adhere to is having the audience root on your scrappy band of underdogs. This ESU team though was filled with drunks, cheats, misogynists, potty mouths, druggies, and worst of all, none of those qualities were endearing in a Dirty Dozen sort of way! Then you had the second-to-last game of the regular season.
So let me get this straight – when ESU rolls into Iowa City, Iowa to take on my Iowa Hawkeyes, I’m supposed to be hoping that Joe Kane and his band of miscreants beat the clean-living, God-fearing, farm boys from the Heartland? At home in Kinnick Stadium?
When the Iowa player barrels over the newly steroid-free Lattimer into the endzone for the dramatic win, I was cheering! Heck, I thought the movie was over right then and there!
A funny thing happened though. This movie went on for another twenty minutes!
The Program really fumbles on every possession because of the way it sullies that purest of man’s pursuits – college football. Back when I was getting paid to play big time college football, it was about turning boys into men (through the aid of lots of hazing), getting free cars from boosters, taking easy classes, banging the hottest cheerleaders on campus and playing the game of your life hungover like you wouldn’t believe. Not C-list actors stumbling through a poorly shot screenplay mish-mashed full of every tired college sports hot button issue the writers could remember from listening to sports talk radio the day before.
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