A word of advice to Dwayne ”The Rock” Johnson: If you want to be a movie star, change your hair, your man-of-steel body, your indomitable coolness — change something. Surprise us. In Gridiron Gang, the Rock plays the kind of tough-love drill-sergeant sports coach that can be sugared ham for an actor. Recently, performers as diverse as Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Lucas have run with this sort of part, and Greg Kinnear, in Invincible, gives it a geek-chic twist, playing one of those pro football coaches who are personally about as athletic as a weekend golfer but who somehow hold sway over a team of human wrecking machines.
The Rock, on the other hand, takes this perfect handoff of a role and fumbles it. His look is a big problem. He’s supposed to be a counselor in the grittiest of youth incarceration centers, but the delinquents have all been cast to appear scruffy and raw and real. Next to them, the Rock, with his chiseled angles, is like something out of a Japanese anime. (We see the true-life counselor the movie was based on over the closing credits, and he’s got a mustache and a mullet; he looks like a true dude.) It doesn’t help that his dialogue is a wearying chain of inspirational slogans: Go for your dream, don’t give in to violence, choose to be a winner. After a while, I thought I was watching Tony Robbins on GNC protein supplements.
Gridiron Gang parades itself as an ”honest” message movie, a call for troubled kids to choose life over street nihilism, but the picture is so earnest that it leaves out the easy, old-school pleasure conjured by the last few years of Disney sports flicks (Invincible, Miracle, The Rookie). It makes going for your dream a slog.