CAST: Kevin James, Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, Jackie Sandler, Tait Blum, Gary Valentine, Maxwell Simkins, Jacob Perez, Bryant Tardy, Manny Magnus, Liam Kyle, Christopher Farrar, Merek Mastrov, Isaiah Mustafa, Christopher Titone, Ashley D. Kelley, Lavell Crawford, Allen Covert, Anthony L. Fernandez, Jared Sandler, Chloe Fineman
RUNNING TIME: 95 mins
BASICALLY…: Disgraced NFL coach Sean Payton (James) heads his son’s ragtag team of underachievers…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
The only compliment I’ll give Home Team, the latest joint “effort” (a term used very loosely) between Netflix and Adam Sandler’s production company Happy Madison, is that at least it isn’t as obnoxiously juvenile as a lot of their other movies. However, part of me kind of wishes that it was, because then at least there would have been a trace of personality to this exceptionally bland and formulaic sports movie.
Home Team is a heavily fictionalised account of real-life NFL New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton (portrayed here by Happy Madison regular Kevin James) who, following his 2012 suspension in the wake of the “Bountygate” scandal – for the uninitiated, players were basically bribed to injure their opponents on the field – returns to Argyle, Texas where his son Connor (Tait Blum) is a member of the local underachieving youth football group. Soon, Payton is encouraged by the team’s coach Lambert (Taylor Lautner) to bring his NFL skills to the team, and eventually he gets them into fighting shape while also bonding more with his son.
You don’t have to be an expert of the sports movie playbook to know where each and every plot strand, line of dialogue, character arc etc is going to end up, but honestly you can say that about a lot of family-orientated movies revolving around a particular sport. Home Team is no exception, but there is something much more half-assed in how it plays out the most blatant conventions of the genre, to a point where you fail to see any genuine passion put into any of the writing, directing, acting or even the soundtrack. Every single person involved in this movie feels like they’re on autopilot, going through the motions without straying even a centimetre away from the established formula, and not even making an attempt to stand out from so many of the other movies it is constantly ripping from, whether it’s the underdog plot of The Mighty Ducks and The Bad News Bears, or the juvenile shenanigans that were put to far more endearing use in films like The Sandlot (this movie even has an extended sequence of projectile vomiting that can’t even compete with the one in that film).
You can feel the desire within most of these actors to be anywhere else other than on the set of Home Team, even including Happy Madison regulars Kevin James who delivers a rather dull turn as Sean Payton, and Rob Schneider whose supporting turn as the new-age husband of Payton’s ex-wife (herself played by Jackie “wife of Adam” Sandler) gets painfully zero laughs, partly because it’s Rob Schneider but also because the script and direction is severely letting him down. There is barely a laugh to be found here since most of the humour is much more toned down compared to other Happy Madison projects, but still fails to make even the smallest deliveries or unnecessary prat falls feel remotely plausible for chuckle-worthy humour. Instead, directors Charles Francis Kinnane and Daniel Kinnane keep the action so light and uneventful that by the time we reach the inevitable climactic field showdown, it doesn’t even feel like we’ve even made it to the climax; there is so little going on that you’re waiting for something big to happen, and by the time it does the movie is finally over. It’s like we just watched something happen with no purpose, and certainly no investment, for ninety minutes straight, which makes me (and, I assume, a lot of other people who watch this) feel somewhat cheated by the unworthy experience.
Additionally, NFL fans going in to this hoping that it will actually address that whole “Bountygate” scandal, which forms the catalyst of this film’s events, will be sorely disappointed to learn that the whole thing is barely mentioned, in favour of this much staler family sports movie. By simply brushing this very significant thing under the rug, especially when it makes this central character look pretty awful, there is a foul stench of inauthenticity to this movie which makes this feel like hero-worshipping propaganda about this apparently well-meaning guy who always makes the right decisions in the end, even though in real life these serious allegations throw that into considerable doubt.
Watching a Happy Madison movie is often a miserable experience, but Home Team is a different kind of miserable, one where you can tell that nobody is really putting much effort into delivering the most basic of templates, and it makes the whole thing so much less endearing than it clearly wants to be.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Home Team is a miserably bland sports comedy from Happy Madison, which predominantly sheds the typical juvenile humour but leaves behind a very stale and noticeably half-assed underdog narrative where nobody, not even Happy Madison regulars like Kevin James and Rob Schneider, seems to be putting any effort into making this entertaining or authentic in any sense.