Imagine “The Bad News Bears” in Pop Warner football togs, and you’ll have a good idea what to expect from “Little Giants.” Warners release from Amblin is a familiar but funny sports comedy that likely will score impressive numbers as a mid-autumn B.O. contender.
Rick Moranis heads the fine cast as Danny O’Shea, a small-town single father who wants to help his tomboyish daughter (Shawna Waldron) — and maybe upstage Kevin (Ed O’Neill), his cocky older brother — by coaching a team of kids who have been rejected by Kevin for the town’s Pop Warner junior team.
Kevin, a former high-school star and Heisman Trophy winner, is the town’s local hero and doesn’t want to risk his standing in the community. So when he’s asked to coach the Pop Warner team, he chooses only the very best athletes. Becky, his brother’s daughter, would seem to fall into that category. But Kevin refuses to choose her because, hey, she’s a girl.
Rather than get mad, Becky decides to get even by tricking her father into coaching a team of rejects. At first, Danny is reluctant, mainly because he never was much of a football player. But when Kevin pointedly reminds Danny of his inadequacies, Danny decides it’s high time to step outside his older brother’s shadow.
No fewer than four screenwriters are credited with cobbling together a scenario that seems cribbed from bits and pieces of other pix about children and their games. Director Duwayne Dunham (“Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey”) keeps things moving at an acceptably brisk pace. Still, film might be a little too long for the attention spans of very young audiences.
In addition to Becky, the well-cast players on Danny’s Little Giants team include: Rudy (Michael Zwiener), a corpulent youngster whose flatulence is overused as a running gag; Rasheed (Troy Simmons), an eager-beaver receiver who finds toilet-paper rolls much easier to catch than footballs; Nubie (Matthew McCurley), a brainy nerd who uses his computer expertise to plot football plays; Jake (Todd Bosley), a slight but scrappy boy whose mother thinks football will improve his self-esteem; and Junior (Devon Sawa), a trigger-armed quarterback who’s just hunky enough to make Becky think boys aren’t so yucky after all.
Story is pat and predictable, as Danny whips his team into shape for a big practice game against his brother’s Cowboys team. On the other hand, pic is never less than engaging, and often manages to be genuinely amusing.
Moranis’ expert perf here is up to past standards. He is especially good in scenes with newcomer Waldron, who’s a real find.
Among the supporting players, Brian Haley is a standout as a Cowboys player’s father whose gung-ho enthusiasm is too much for even Kevin to take. Also worthy of note is Mary Ellen Trainor as Kevin’s not entirely supportive wife, and Sam Horrigan as the Cowboys’ most ferociously intimidating player.
Tech values are much better than they have to be. How much better? The attractive color lensing is by Janusz Kaminski, the Oscar-winning cinematographer of “Schindler’s List.” And the second-unit director is D. Michael (Micky) Moore (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,””Raiders of the Lost Ark”).