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Second String

Reality is a no-show in "Second String," TNT's entry in the bad-team-overcomes-adversity genre. Football movies are hard enough to pull off, but when poorly chosen stock footage is blended into a plot that comes from left field, any sense of whimsy is bludgeoned by the ridiculous notion that a practice squad could win the Super Bowl.

Reality is a no-show in “Second String,” TNT’s harebrained entry in the bad-team-overcomes-adversity genre. Football movies are hard enough to pull off, but when such poorly chosen stock footage is blended into a plot that comes from, excuse the mixed metaphor, left field, any sense of whimsy is bludgeoned by the ridiculous notion that a practice squad could win the Super Bowl.

Here’s the game plan: The Buffalo Bills make it to the playoffs once again and are primed for an easy road to the championship after upcoming battles against underdogs San Diego and Miami. During the first practice week, however, the starting offense goes out for its annual dinner and contracts a serious case of food poisoning, thanks to a batch of warm oysters.

The point scorers rendered unable to suit up, management has to make do with the B lineup, a lovable bunch led by newly signed quarterback Dan Heller (Gil Bellows). Seems Heller was a star at Notre Dame, once upon a time, but never made the transition to the pro game, and he also had previous run-ins with his new coach (Jon Voight) throughout a journeyman career.

Not to worry — thanks to the will to win, flea-flickers galore and a Little Engine That Could attitude, these terrible competitors steal America’s heart, catch some breaks and win the Lombardi Trophy.

“Second String” feels like the result of a barroom conversation in which writer Tom Flynn and director Robert Lieberman dreamed up the most inane scenario possible. Is anyone really to believe that washouts could win it all? And even with disbelief suspended, the execution is so pedestrian, the play-by-play situations so outrageously conceived, that there’s little left by project’s end to extract any kind of sympathy or support for the has-beens/wannabes.

Most notable, however, is the terrible editing, which butchers real footage of games and fans. When winning touchdowns are scored, people are sitting and quiet, and there’s even one sequence that starts out on the 50-yard line but then shifted to the red zone after a quick cut.

The unfolding drama also is questionable: The Bills go for an extra point instead of two, even though they need the deuce as time is expiring — all for effect later on.

Chewing scenery yet again as a bristling coach — as he did in “Varsity Blues” — Voight is showboaty with a fedora hat and steely eyes. Bellows looks athletic but nothing like a starting QB, and Teri Polo is wasted as his supportive wife.

Doug Flutie, Mike Ditka and ESPN’s Chris Berman pop in with cameos.

Second String

Telepic; TNT, Wed., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in Toronto by Michael London Prods. Executive producer, Michael London; producer, Bob Roe; co-producer, Jere Cunningham; director, Robert Lieberman; writer, Tom Flynn.
  • Crew: Camera, David Hennings; editor, Alan Shefland; production designer, Dan Yarhi; music, Mark Mothersbaugh; casting, Lisa Freiberger. 120 MIN.
  • Cast: Coach Dichter - Jon Voight Dan Heller - Gil Bellows Connie Heller - Teri Polo Gerry Fullerton - Richard T. Jones Tommy Baker - George Eads
  • Music By: