"Does for soccer movies what "Victory" did for soccer movies-precious little"
At a time when we are being inundated with news about the evil of illegal immigrants bringing America to its knees by taking our precious menial labor jobs–news that largely seems to have been created in order to distract from slightly more pressing problems–it is somewhat gutsy of Disney to release a film like “Goal!” that not only feature just such a person as its lead character, it even unapologetically opens with a flashback showing him and his family sneaking across the border into the U.S. Alas, this turns out to be the only fresh aspect of a film that hits every imaginable cliche you could possibly apply to a story about a poor-but-talented kid who struggles against overwhelming odds to achieve his dreams.This time around, the dreamer is Santiago (Kuno Becker) and his dream is to become a professional soccer player instead of working as a gardener for his grumpy, dream-dashing dad (Tony Plana). Luckily for him, he is spotted on a soccer field by a down-and-out former scout (Stephen Dillane) who gets him a tryout with a struggling team in Newcastle, England. In news that will no doubt startle few of you, he encounters colorful locals, a team meanie, a cute young bird (Anna Friel) and a burned-out playboy player (Allesandro Nivola) who manages to relearn his love of the game under the influence of the rookie. Oh, he also deals with family traumas, a medical condition, any number of blown opportunities on and off the field and a big game in which everything is decided on whether or not Santiago scores the crucial winning goal in the closing seconds.
As I said, these are all predictable story ingredients but when used properly, they can still result in something that is at least reasonably entertaining and exciting. The trouble with “Goal” is that it seems to be as uninterested in telling this particular story as we are in watching it. Each obstacle is brought up and then dealt with in such a rushed and perfunctory manner that you wonder they even bothered to introduce them in the first place. Perhaps the idea was that the soccer footage would be son intrinsically exciting that audiences would simply disregard the rest of the story as inconsequential filler. A good idea in theory, it doesn’t quite pan out here because the sports footage just isn’t that interesting to behold. While it is impressive on a technical level, director Danny Cannon doesn’t seem to have any idea of how to compile the footage in a dramatically exciting manner–he gives us plenty of fancy kicks and slamming bodies but no reason to care about the people performing them. (The only surprising thing about “Goal” is that the film, which barely has enough story for one film, is actually the first of a planned trilogy following Santiago to the World Cup–the second part has already been shot and the third is reportedly set to go before the cameras this summer.)Becker is winning enough as Santiago (though it is pretty clear that he was cast for his way with a ball than his way with a script), Nivola (in a surprising about-face from his recent work in “Junebug”) is pretty amusing as the faux-Beckham superstar and I appreciate any opportunity to see the sadly underused Anna Friel on the screen, even if she is relegated to the boring girlfriend slot. That said, “Goal” is just too predictable to generate much excitement from anyone other than the most ardent soccer fans–the kind who own “Victory” on DVD and who watched “Bend It Like Beckham” for reasons that didn’t involve Keira Knightley in shorts.