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Strategy Session: A frustrated coach (Al Pacino) tries to rally a team in disarray to one more victory in Oliver Stone's 'Any Given Sunday.'

Busted Play

Stone drops the ball with 'Any Given Sunday'

By Nicole McEwan

OLIVER STONE has brass balls. Only a testosterone-impaired director so soaked up in his own increasingly cheap legacy would have the chutzpah to draw a parallel between an American sport and one of the most significant battles of World War II, which is precisely what he does in Any Given Sunday, undoubtedly the most muddled, overblown and unsatisfying film of 1999.

It's impossible not to watch Any Given Sunday's first 20 minutes without recalling Saving Private Ryan's brilliantly realized opening sequence. That stunning, visceral piece of filmmaking--all guts and no glory--employed hand-held cameras, slo-mo, muddy sound, no sound, keenly framed point-of-view shots and washed-out film stock to recreate the taking of Normandy Beach. Along comes Stone, "borrowing" the same techniques and applying them to a hackneyed football epic that paints its gridiron "heroes" as modern gods battling the inequalities of a system that pays them millions to work six months out of the year, while the average family can't even afford to pay to see them.

Like most sports films, Any Given Sunday tells the story of a team that has seen better years. The fictional Miami Sharks have their worst record in years when their Joe Montana-style star quarterback Jack Rooney (Dennis Quaid) is injured. This unanticipated disaster inspires a clash of wills between semiwashed-up coach Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino) and bitchy team owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz). Pagniacci has her eye strictly on the bottom line. She gets her kicks from her position of power and money, has little affection for the game and has led a life substituting as the son her football-obsessed daddy (the deceased team owner) never had. D'Amato has given everything for football, including his wife and family. The crisis is whether to play the undisciplined Willie Beaman (Jamie Foxx) or Jack, since recovered, in the big game.

This is the basic (and very simple) story. Unfortunately, Stone lobs a multitude of genuinely relevant themes into the mix and then hardly explores them. If only race, crooked sports medicine, corrupt college recruiting, media overkill and exploitative player contracts were given more than a smidgen of on screen time, perhaps the film's bloated length might be justified. Instead Stone throws plausibility and character development out the window to give us 80 minutes of what appear to be CNN Sports outtakes presented by MTV. The soundtrack--an outrageous mix of heavy metal and hip-hop--is intrusive, if not downright annoying. The camera is so restless and the editing so rapid-fire that the film sometimes approximates a slide show.

As far as performances, only Foxx distinguishes himself, playing the only believable character in the film. The less said about Pacino's mumbling nonperformance the better; Diaz' dominatrixesque Christina is a simply a rehash of her ruthless would-be bride in Very Bad Things. The film's only surprise is the notable full frontal nudity Stone managed to slip past censors--Stanley Kubrick is surely rolling in his grave. Then again, it's the completely appropriate highlight of what amounts to little more than a three-hour-long cock-and-bull story.

Any Given Sunday (R; 160 min.), directed by Oliver Stone, written by Daniel Pyne and John Logan, photographed by Salvatore Totino and starring Dennis Quaid, Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz, plays at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the December 23-29, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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