Tony Danza goes from “Taxi” to taxi squad in this formulaic “Wonderful World of Disney” production that assures us it’s far better to be a humble garbage collector than a conceited placekicker. Trash: good. Football: Less good. Yet as contrived as this whole enterprise proves to be, Danza is such a lovable lug that he manages to overcome a plethora of plot sins and keep us tuned, if only for the sake of the kids in the house.
Film follows a typical “Wonderful World of Disney” blueprint of modest roots, success, missteps and, finally, redemption of sorts. It casts Danza as one Barney Gorman, a guy with a lovely wife (Jessica Tuck) but a father (Al Ruscio) and son (Gil Filar) who are ashamed that Barney hasn’t been able to rise above the level of sanitation engineer. Not only that, he shares the name of a certain purple dinosaur.
One day while hanging at the local landfill, a frustrated Barney lashes out and kicks one of those empty five-gallon water jugs into the air a good 50 yards. If Sparkletts had a football team, he’d be signed on the spot. Instead, Barney’s bottle-booting exploits just happen to be witnessed by a Philadelphia Eagles recruiter (Julie Stewart). She’s impressed with the way he lays his instep into $8 deposit containers — and who can blame her? Besides, the team’s regular kicker can’t hit the side of a barn.
Within hours, Barney and family are sitting across the table from ill-humored Eagles owner Randolph Pratt (Ray Wise of “Twin Peaks” fame). The garbage man is handed a contract over dinner — no agent, no adviser, no caution. They shake on it. It’s not the real world, just an odd simulation.
Barney’s wife reassures him in her own unique way that she believes in him (“You’re not an idiot!”), but once on the practice field the Eagles’ jerk of a coach (Art Lafleur) rejects this garbage guy as a joke designed to humiliate him. The players haze him mercilessly, particularly a Refrigerator Perry lookalike named Bubba (Jaime Cardriche).
But Barney, of course, wins everyone over with his golden toe, which has been sharpened by whacking the malfunctioning hydraulic unit on his garbage truck. Soon, he’s just one of the guys — overeating, busting curfew, acting like a complete dope. He’s hailed as the “Sanitation Sensation.” Fully adjusting to NFL life, he quits his regular job, disses his friends, ignores his son and neglects his wife, declaring himself “a commodity.”
Suffice it to say that everything turns out just ducky in the end here, punctuated by Danza’s transformation into Knute Rockne at halftime of his final game. Teleplay by Tim Kelleher and Greg Fields pushes all of the requisite buttons, painting a serviceable (if derivative) fairy tale that plays kind of like a goofy “Paper Lion,” right down to the “00” jersey.
Kelleher’s jaunty direction, along with a thundering soundtrack from composer Shirley Walker that recalls the “Hercules” movies, blends with Danza’s divertingly earnest paces to give “The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon” something of a camp tone.
Thank God for those “Who’s the Boss?” residual checks.