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Film review: 'Undefeated' doesn't develop character, it reveals it

By Roger Moore

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Published: Friday, May 11 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Coach Bill Courtney and O.C. Brown in UNDEFEATED ? 2011 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved.

The Weinstein Company

"UNDEFEATED" — ★★★ — Bill Courtney, O.C. Brown, Chavis Daniels, Montrail "Money" Brown; PG-13 (language); Broadway

At one point in the Oscar-nominated documentary "Undefeated," Coach Bill Courtney's voice cracks as he shouts "CHARACTER" at his team for the 400th time.

He has volunteered six years of his life to this team — underprivileged kids from inner-city Memphis, Tenn. — volunteered because the school can't afford a football coach.

He has had to break up fights between his players, hound them to stay in school, keep their grades up and aim higher than the lives fate has ordained for them. And just that one moment in this often-moving football documentary, they seem to get it. "Character" is what you show when things go wrong. Character is what picks you up. And character is what determines how you live your life.

Courtney, an ex-salesman who runs a successful lumber company, is the heart of "Undefeated," a white businessman who longs to turn this hapless team peppered with unruly, undisciplined young black men into winners for the first time in their lives and the first time in their school's long history.

The sports cliches and "FOOTball" myopia of the coaching staff may provoke a bit of eye-rolling. But when Coach tells the kids that football doesn't "build character, it REVEALS character," you believe. So do they.

Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin's film focuses on Courtney's mania for taking this school to its first-ever victory in the Tennessee state playoffs. It zeroes in on a trio of players — kids who believed in and stuck it out for him through four long years because their coach believed in them.

There's a touch of "The Blind Side" to this, from its Memphis setting to one of its central characters. O.C. Brown is a big, fast offensive lineman with college potential. He's a terrible student living in a rough part of town. The only way to get him tutored and qualified for college? Move him in with a white assistant coach's family a few days a week.

As movies of this genre go, this one feels a little superficial, a little too content to trot out "raised by his grandmother" and show the caved-in ceiling of the kitchen of one boy's home, and go no further.

"Undefeated" makes you hope that the boys he influenced will be like the team he coached — guys whose real achievements only show up in the second half.

"Undefeated" is rated PG-13 for language; running time: 113 minutes.

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