The Underdoggs Review – A cringe-inducing 90s throwback with some heart

By Kieran Burt
Published: January 25, 2024 (Last updated: last month)
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The Underdoggs Review
The Underdoggs Key Art | Image via Prime Video
2.5

Summary

The Underdoggs is a film trapped in the past with its cringe and humor but if you can force past that there is a story underneath that has some heart, a satisfying journey for its main character, and an unpredictable ending that helps set it apart from other sports movies.

The NFL (National Football League) is huge in America, commanding legions of fans. And just as there are films about the UK’s favorite sport, the NFL has made its appearance in many films. Prime Video and MGM want to get in on this with The Underdoggs, working with Snoop Dogg to create a fictional film about very real issues in the NFL, and that’s the class and racial struggles young kids face to break into the sport. It turns out Snoop Dogg is a keen advocate of this, having started his own NFL charity back in 2005.

The plot centers on Jaycen Jennings (Snoop Dogg), a once-great NFL player who has become selfish and narcissistic in the wake of his fame. But a nasty car crash and a speeding violation send Jennings back home to do community service, and he winds up training a group of disadvantaged kids and having them feel more comfortable that their background doesn’t dictate their future.

It’s a good setup and shows the difference a celebrity can make in people’s lives when they’re not doing it for PR. While there is only a minor antagonist in an equally narcissistic and loatheable opinion show host Chip Collins (Andrew Schulz), he serves as a clear indication of what Jennings should move on from, which Jennings is partially successful at, making it somewhat believable. And while the acting from both actors is completely over the top and often silly, there are moments where Snoop Dogg pulls back, such as when he’s asking his former coach for advice.

A romance is also present between Jennings and his former partner, but it’s barely present and doesn’t get resolved either, making it superfluous. But thankfully the kids themselves avoid this fate. While they are comically cringe, they help shine a light on some of the struggles that people in poorer neighborhoods of America struggle with. For example, they have to compete against kids who have had all the money in the world thrown at them, as two intense games show.

At a brisk and short length, The Underdoggs doesn’t outstay its welcome, which is always appreciated. It can at times be a bit unpredictable, especially the end, in a real heartfelt way, which prevents the audience from thinking they know exactly every beat before it’s allowed to happen. There’s also a frenetic pace in each of the two games and the way the camera is angled to capture all of the tackles and passes.

It’s the cringe that holds this film back from being a fully watchable one, as with its immature style of humor will likely quickly alienate those who prefer a slightly sterner style. For me, it pulled me out of the experience one too many times but if you can force your way past it or like that style of humor, then The Underdoggs will be enjoyable.

The cringe is strong with this one 

The humor is at times excruciating to sit through, with the film thinking that being crass and cringey is equivalent to being funny. The opening disclaimer makes this painfully clear to audiences, so if you’re not amused by that, stop. In some ways, this humor adds to the film’s authenticity — the streets that these kids grow up on aren’t exactly sanitized — but restraint isn’t used when it would have benefitted the story. It would have helped with some more tense and heartfelt moments, especially as one moment could have audiences sniggering about human anatomy, robbing it of its intended weight.

When The Underdoggs isn’t being crass, it’s downright embarrassing with meta jokes that aren’t as clever as the film thinks they are, or an absurd dance number. There are rare moments of actual humor, such as an overt Star Wars reference, and the way that it’s used implies Jennings is stupid, which he absolutely is. Though it’s unclear if this was the point or if the scriptwriters just wanted to mention Star Wars.


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