There’s just something about them that pulls me in; usually long enough to regret it as it becomes either too sugary for the taste, or so melodramatic the heart of the intent is overwhelmed by forced feeling. The sports movie is one of the finest of thin line genres. The real stories of sports are inherent with heartbreaks and surprises, sometimes even too good to be true. Hollywood usually gets too involved with a formulaic idea that the soul of what really unfolded is sucked out to fit a script. That’s it, Hollywood usually manufactures drama instead of letting it play out as we see in real life sports situations.
There are the far fetched like, Any Given Sunday (pompously promising a real football movie ending on an 80 yard QB keeper?) ; the plain silly like Semi Pro (where true telling of the old American Basketball Association is crazy and wonderful enough to make for a better movie); or even Red Belt (the first big MMA effort that tapped itself out with a convoluted plot).
What keeps most of us sports fans coming back for another try are reminders of classics such as The Natural, Bull Durham, Raging Bull, The Longest Yard (Burt Reynolds’ version) Rocky, Breaking Away,Somebody Up There Likes Me, Requiem For a Heavyweight, Seabiscuit, Field of Dreams, and Pharlap. Notice the number of boxing and baseball and horse racing movies in this group. Granted, some are flights of fantasy, but what all these movies have is a true spirit that, if not entirely, comes close to recapturing the true spirit of sport with characters to root for, empathize with, and moments that generate an endorphin rush.
Others are just fun and entertaining: Let It Ride, Major League, Slapshot, For Love of The Game, It Happens Every Spring and Here Comes the Boom.
There are two sports theme movies playing now, 50-1 based on the true story of Kentucky Derby long shot winner Mine That Bird, and Draft Day with Kevin Costner starring as the general manger of the Cleveland Browns, getting ready for the big day in the NFL.
Another thing about sports movies is the difficulty in finding an actor who can pull off being an athlete. Some Oscar winners have fallen short on that end. Costner and Charlie Sheen are two of the best. Both look as if they actually have been a pro pitcher, Reynolds had played football at Florida State and it showed, and Robert Redford had a real baseball swing. Of course, my friend Gary Stevens was perfect as a great jockey playing a great jockey, as was another great friend Bas Rutten, in “playing” an MMA instructor.
There’s something intrinsic about the fight game and horse racing grabs an audience, always has. Even when it isn’t a sports movie or TV show, count the times boxing (more now MMA) or horse racing is in the background, especially the number of times a race track is in a scene.
With that here are some future movie suggestions involving athletes who are still viable, and are having movie like moments right now:
STEVE CUNNINGHAM–former two-time World Cruiserweight boxing champion continues to move up the ranks as a heavyweight. He’s from the tough streets of Philly, and honed his fighting skills in the Navy, where he enlisted to get away from the crime and violence surrounding him. He recently was knocked down twice in the fifth round against then unbeaten Amir Mansour but rallied in true Rocky fashion to win the fight. Adding to the real life drama, his precious young daughter Kennedy has a congenital heart condition that is life threatening. Their relationship is absolutely amazing and positive. The nine year-old sits ringside at all his fights.
NICK NEWELL–was born with what is termed a “congenital amputation,” where his left arm didn’t extend past his elbow. His mother wouldn’t allow him to ever feel different, and he pursued a successful youth athletic career. Drawing inspiration from former major league pitcher Jim Abbott, who has a similar condition, he has risen in the MMA ranks and will fight for the WSOF lightweight title this summer.
CALIFORNIA CHROME–in the “Sport of Kings” he should be a pauper. His mother was purchased for $8,000, a pittance in the equine world, by two couples who enjoy the sport, but haven’t made their living at it, or relied on a trust fund. When they couldn’t agree on a name after coming up with several suggestions, they put them all in a hat took it to their favorite local diner, and had their favorite waitress draw it out. California Chrome has blown away the competition so far and comes to the Kentucky Derby this week, as the favorite.
GARY STEVENS & MIKE SMITH–two jockeys in their 50’s and still at the top of their games, at least a decade past what should be their prime. After a seven year layoff working as an actor and broadcaster, Stevens was inspired by how well his best friend Smith was still riding and how hard he worked to stay in shape. So, Stevens came out of retirement, got back into a killer workout regiment, and went on to win two of the biggest races of the year. They both will ride horses who could upset Chrome, this Saturday in the Derby, and maybe they will become the first great buddy sports film.
The best thing about sports is the offering of script ideas almost annually. Somebody say “Action” and they really make it happen.
Got something you’re burning on? Tell the man himself on Kenny Rice’s Twitter or Facebook page.
Watch Kenny, along with Bas Rutten, LIVE on “Inside MMA” returning May 9th to AXS TV!
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