REVIEW: Champions (2018)
Javier Gutiérrez rejected the role of The Professor in "Money Heist" to act as a basketball coach in charge of a very special team
It's interesting to see that Javier Fesser's (director) first major attempt at a serious feature film [Camino (2008)] was «sandwiched» by two B-comedies of the Mortadelo y Filemón series, and this «sandwich» is followed by another comedy (today's film). Was this a deliberate choice? Or is it just what producers see in his directing abilities? To be fair, he seems good at combining drama elements with other genres (in Camino, he used fantasy; and with Champions, he uses comedy). But Camino had a more «serious tone» in its approach and subtext, so seeing Fesser turning to «light» comedies is a bit of a disappointment. Nevertheless, Champions is an entertaining film to watch.
The movie tells the story of a professional basketball coach that due to creative differences and anger management issues, is fired from his job. Right in the aftermath, after drinking "a couple of shots" to vent his frustrations out, he gets in trouble with the police and is prosecuted. The judge orders him to do 12 weeks of social work by training a group of people with «special abilities» in some obscure sports club, away from the spotlight of the big leagues. He's prejudiced against them, and sees the job as an impossible task. But as you might expect, he eventually comes to terms with his new reality and accepts them for who they are.
For Javier Gutiérrez (who plays Marco, the coach), the role had a special significance because his real-life son (Mateo) is also a person with «special abilities» (he claimed that the project was going to be "the movie of his life").1 He even turned down a prominent role in the Atresmedia show Money Heist (now owned by TV network Netflix).2 The film, according to some news sources, was inspired by a real basketball team called Aderes, who won 12 championships between 1999 and 2014.3 Curiously enough, instead of hiring them for the movie, the producers decided to cast a different set of amateur actors (ten in total), with the peculiarity that they also have «special abilities» like the characters they portray. In other words, the so-called «authentic representation».
It doesn't surprise me that the movie has been heavily politicised (pay attention to some of the financing entities involved), but all of the ten newcomers are a joy to watch. A special mention goes to Gloria Ramos (Collantes) and Jesús Vidal (Marín), who play a verbally aggressive team leader and a charming hypochondriac who will shock the viewers in the final match, respectively. Some of the situations the others are involved in, such as the shower scene and the elevator one, felt a bit contrived and clumsy (and why not, emotionally manipulative), but overall, there is a good chemistry between the group.
The film has all the DNA elements of a crowd-pleaser, and, in that respect, it delivers. There are two Marco sub-plots (the relationship with his wife and mother) that felt underdeveloped and a bit unnecessary. It's like a failed effort to make the character multidimensional. Staying true to the core relationship between the coach and the team was the better approach (exemplified beautifully in that touching final goodbye scene). It's an average work (forgettable within a week) with some uplifting values that are worth sharing for a quick distraction, assuming you have nothing better to watch. I think Fesser and Gutiérrez can do better than this.
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