Woody Harrelson is no stranger to a basketball story. White Men Can’t Jump was released in 1992 and it became abundantly clear that the actor had ball skills. Now those moves are being put to work from the side of the court in Bobby Farrelly’s directorial debut, Champions.
In a remake of the successful 2018 Spanish film, Campeones (starring Javier Gutiérrez), Harrelson stars as Marcus Markovic, a former minor-league basketball coach who, after being arrested for driving under the influence, receives a court order to manage a team of players with intellectual disabilities called The Friends. For all his expertise in the game of basketball, Marcus is told by colleagues he lacks the human empathy to be the perfect leader, but through hard work and determination, along with some guidance from his new team, his personality begins to change for the better.
It’s a plot device we’ve seen a million times before, with countless underdog stories and redemption movies set around sport being released over the last 50 years, so the challenge facing Farrelly is how to make Champions different from the rest. Fortunately, the team behind the movie signed up Harrelson for the lead, and it has paid off marvellously. His gritty yet lovable portrayal of Marcus is more than decent and he also successfully gives us a dose of that comedic charm he possesses. The journey isn’t particularly unique, but viewers can easily invest in it nonetheless. Likewise, Kaitlin Olson’s character is a little unoriginal as the romantic interest, but she also kills it in every way.
Harrelson is a winner and has the pull to make this movie one on his own, but the supporting cast also fills Champions with laughs every minute, making it more than just a heartwarming comedy. Screenwriter Mark Rizzo has taken the original material and convincingly adapted it for a Western audience, injecting it with modern jokes that are witty and charming. Of course, there is always an argument for preventing the remaking of foreign films, but at least in this instance the end product is of an acceptable standard.
Champions portrays all the actors in a lovely light and is a good example of how to properly represent individuals with developmental disabilities. There is a sequence in which the audience discovers more about each player, with particular focus on their working lives, and what is so refreshing is the statement that we are all equal. Their disability doesn’t define them and neither should it for anyone else. Some of the cast are absolutely hilarious and should think of a career in comedy if they haven’t already.
The immensely obvious foreshadowing throughout is inevitable, but there is something slightly different in the feeling of this movie. It isn’t so bad to be predictable if your message shines through. Yes, it is a classic underdog story, but the playing field is level. Champions will fill viewers’ hearts with joy.
Champions is released on 10th March 2023.
Watch the trailer for Champions here: