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Friday Night Lights (2004)
Rated PG13

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, and Derek Luke

Rating:
*1/2
out of
*****

Based on H.R. Bissinger's book about a small Texas town obsessed with their high school football team, Friday Night Lights is one of those overly melodramatic sports movies that make me wonder why sports movies are even made anymore.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as Coach Gary Gains. His Permian High School team, made up of the stereotypical troubled, overconfident, or driven athletes, is expected to win the state championship. Of course, that means they'll get there and play a spectacularly talented team in a game that goes down to the final second. (I'm not spoiling anything, trust me. What kind of movie would it be if they went 2-10 and didn't even make the playoffs? Have you ever seen a mainstream sports movie that doesn't follow that formula?)

Of course, Gains and his players have to battle adversity to get to that game. Quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) lacks self-esteem and is constantly belittled by his mother, making it hard for him to be an effective leader. Halfback Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) is already browsing for a Mercedes-Benz because he thinks he's going to make it to the pro level. Basically, every featured player has something to overcome on a personal level and playing on the Permian Panthers is going to solve that problem for them. If only life were so simple.

Director Peter Berg uses the now-extremely overused handheld camera style in almost every scene. The in-game sequences feature hits punctuated with loud rock music and work on a basic level but don't offer anything fresh. If you've seen any football movie, you've seen most of the goings-on here.

The biggest revelation here is the on-screen debut of country singer Tim McGraw as Charles Billingsley, whose son, Don, may not live up to his legacy. McGraw is effective as the alcoholic, angry dad. Not spectacular, but good.

If you're a sports movie fan, Friday Night Lights will probably satisfy you with its "more of what you're used to" formula. If you love movies with plenty of thought-provoking characters and surprising plot developments, please skip it. You'll be glad you did.

Trivia: Frustrated with the authenticity of some actors playing assistant coaches, director Peter Berg turned to actual Permian High School coaches to deliver some lines during game sequences. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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