On sports movies
In this era of Hollywood where absolutely nothing is sacred, it shouldn't shock anyone that LeBron James is preparing to play (you guessed it) himself in an upcoming movie about a group of friends who go to a fantasy basketball camp. What is truly amazing about this development is not that James is taking on this newest indulgence of his egomania; after all, this is the same man who wore a shirt that read simply, "Check My $tats."
No, the problem runs much deeper than one person's inflated sense of self. Instead, we must step back and ask: is this mockery what sports movies have come to? Can we really not do any better? What happened to the days where in a one-year span we had not only Rocky IV, but Hoosiers to boot? The modern sports movie has lost touch with the formula that made them successful in the first place, and in addition what makes them rewatchable even today. These factors are often small, seemingly minute details, but when added make up all the difference between a good sports movie and a mediocre one.
My biggest complaint about the modern sports movie, other than its incessant desire to send some kind of over-arching message, is that somewhere in the movie they have to mention the title within the dialogue. I cannot understand why my experience with Remember the Titans was better because before one game the progressive, single-parent assistant coach told the team to "make sure they remember, forever, the night they played the Titans!" It's almost as if the studio held a gun to the writers' heads and said that they had to include it if they wanted their movie to get made. Or maybe they figured just in case the movie sucked (which it didn't), at least the people would remember the title.
Another thing a lot of sports movies lack is a subtlety within the obligatory romantic plot arc. Anyone can pull off a basic guy-gets-girl sequence, but what movies these days miss is the brutal, unintentional awkwardness that makes these parts of the plot wildly entertaining. I defy you to watch Gene Hackman in Hoosiers or an amazingly sloppy Ralph Macchio in Karate Kid make out with their respective love interests without cringing and laughing simultaneously. This all goes without mentioning the riveting scene in Rocky where Sylvester Stallone basically commits sexual assault on his future wife in his dingy apartment; arguably the transcendent awkward love scene in sports movie history. Quick side note--on the director's cut of Remember the Titans, there is a delightfully painful scene between the same assistant coach and his ex-wife, which definitely ratchets the movie up a peg or two in my book.
My final favorite detail now ruined in modern films is a bit broad: realism. I am referring to realism not only in the sense of the actual games (guys wearing equipment unfitting for their era drives me insane), but also in how people talk. It is for this reason that I absolutely love Major League and Slapshot. These fine films capture the essence of baseball and hockey; namely, the filthy language used by players, coaches and fans that immerse you in the sport's environment. Somehow, I don't think before football games, players are in the locker rooms yelling "Let's kick their butts!"
Of course, not all modern movies are bad. However, it is pretty telling that some of the better sports movies ever Caddyshack, Major League, Happy Gilmore are also ones that lacked any kind of message. The formula for success is this: keep it simple, and stupid.