"Facing the Giants" is an aggressively inspirational drama about a born-again high school football coach. Technically polished but dramatically tepid, it might score in the niche market for Christian-themed entertainment. And yet, by preaching to the converted so heavy-handedly, the filmmakers fumble an opportunity to reach beyond their target demo of devout churchgoers.
For those who felt insufficiently uplifted by “Invincible” and “Gridiron Gang,” here comes “Facing the Giants,” an aggressively inspirational drama about a born-again high school football coach. Financed by the congregation of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., pic was made by brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the church’s media and teaching pastors, and features a cast described in press notes as “all volunteer.” Technically polished but dramatically tepid, it might score in the niche market for Christian-themed entertainment. And yet, by preaching to the converted so heavy-handedly, the filmmakers fumble an opportunity to reach beyond their target demo of devout churchgoers.Helmer Alex Kendrick cast himself in the central role of Grant Taylor, an underpaid and overworked coach who’s rightly worried about his employment prospects after six losing seasons at the helm of Shiloh Christian Academy’s football team. Job insecurity only increases the financial pressures on Grant and his wife, Brooke (Shannen Fields), who barely manage to sustain a lifestyle best described as middle-class poverty. Already depressed, the coach is driven to the brink of despair by a doctor’s diagnosis: In all likelihood, he’ll never be able to father children. After a long dark night of the soul, however, Grant finds comfort and inspiration in his Bible. He also gets a quick dose of soulful encouragement from a saintly geezer who wanders through the Shiloh Academy halls blessing the student’s lockers. Renewed and revitalized, Grant announces he’s rededicating himself to Christ and redirecting his players to “honor God” by playing better. In the pic’s early scenes, the Kendrick brothers do a fine job of vividly conveying the financial and emotional stresses that might beset someone in Grant’s position. But after the coach decides to let God be his quarterback, the scripters run out of things to impede his uplift. Indeed, the rest of “Facing the Giants” is an unbroken string of triumphs for the born-again coach. With a potent combo of Bible-based preaching and tough-love coaching, Grant inspires even his surliest players to accept Jesus Christ as lord and savior — and, while they’re at it, stop fumbling so many passes. With God on their side, they score a string of victories that is nothing short of miraculous. And as for that infertility diagnosis — well, the Lord works in mysterious ways, right? The complete lack of dramatic tension throughout “Facing the Giants” makes the thoroughly predictable pic seem much longer than it is. And while most of the performances are appealingly sincere, they seldom reach the level of community-theater proficiency. Even University of Georgia football coach Mark Richt is less than totally convincing while playing himself in a fleeting cameo.