Any Given Sunday

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This pro-sports flick wears its tag line — "life is a contact sport" — with real, if deluded, conviction. In the world of Any Given Sunday, a person has to have the right measure of testosterone or the ball-breaker status of the Miami Sharks’ bristly young team owner, Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz), to be anything but a cheerleader or a hooker.

Sex, age and race are not explored in Oliver Stone’s latest sausage fest, but rather carelessly tossed into an adolescent game of obsession, betrayal, greed and male identity. A big cut of this movie takes place on the field, all sweat, grunts and bloody noses. Aging coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) roars and screams from the sidelines during a gratuitous display of large, uniformed bodies colliding and cussing in a weird lineup of games that don’t seem to mean anything but opportunities for more colliding and cussing.

This is the stuff of successful Sports Illustrated photo spreads, but it does little to communicate anything worthwhile to the viewer-spectator in front of the big screen. It would have helped if Stone had employed the slightest amount of vision or imagination, or even attempted to use football as a metaphor instead of simply glorifying the game in a shallow "Year in Review." Without a real story under the props, Any Given Sunday fails on several counts, and winds up in its own league: the three-hour-long Gatorade commercial.

Weak confrontations between Pagniacci and hard old-timer D’Amato never measure up to the dewy hype that happens on the field. As tired as the slow-motion shots of airborne footballs seem, even they’re more exciting than the anti-climactic clash between the young owner’s anxious MBA-fueled vision of the Sharks’ future and D’Amato’s good-old-boy attitude. D’Amato is stuck on the idea that the big playoffs can be won by locker room prayers, abandoning one’s family and a lucky rabbit’s foot hidden in his sweat-stained sport coat.

D’Amato stands at the hospital bedside of Jack "Cap" Rooney (Dennis Quaid), who in the throes of agony from a back injury yells for painkillers with equal measures of desperation and team spirit cheering. "Turn up the volume! I’m a football player!" he growls. Pagniacci has her sights set on recycling Cap because of his age. But D’Amato reassures the big fella that he will fight for him till he dies, which, judging by the coach’s leathery face and after-hours habits, may not be very long.

Young player Willie Beaman (Jamie Foxx) isn’t any easier to buy into than the hard-nosed football princess who strikes a pose on the cover of Forbes that shows her true, blonde potential for Elle or Vogue.

Admittedly, both Diaz and Pacino make the best of a lousy, high school athlete’s wet dream of a script, but that doesn’t make their motivational poster aphorisms any less nauseating.

Allegedly, Stone was trying to show a picture of modern-day gladiators, what it means to be a real man in an era of gender confusion. Instead, he slapped together a sloppy, limited vision of the desperate need to believe in something in a world where really doing so is — obviously — much too costly.

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