A Mexican Los Angeleno hauls ass to Newcastle, U.K., to realize the American dream in “Goal!”, a slickly mounted slice of can-do nonsense set in the world of British soccer. With its well-staged game footage and cameos by soccer celebs, film looks likely to score some points with sports fans when it starts release in soccer-loving territories late September via BVI. Stateside, it’s much more specialized fare.
As a young boy, Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) steals across the Cal-Mex border one night with his family, almost leaving his beloved soccer ball behind when a patrol comes along. Ten years later, he’s working as a cook in a Chinese restaurant and spending all his free time playing amateur soccer. His blue-collar dad, Hernan (Tony Plana), tells him to stop dreaming and get a proper job.
Santiago is spotted by part-time talent scout Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane), a former footballer with contacts in U.K. soccer. In a single phone call back to Blighty, Glen manages to persuade Erik Dornhelm (Marcel Iures), the German manager of Newcastle United, to give Santiago a tryout if he comes to the U.K.
Santiago starts saving like crazy to buy an air ticket, has his wad stolen by dad to buy a new pickup truck, but is financially saved by his devoted grandma (Miriam Colon), who tells him to follow his dream. Thirty minutes into the picture, Santiago arrives in London, takes the train north and turns up unannounced on Glen’s doorstep. Well, yeah.
Thanks to Newcastle U’s trainer, the gruff but kindly Mal Braithwaite (Gary Lewis), Santiago is taken on as a trainee. He braves muddy English soccer pitches and the sneers of the Geordies; is befriended by a geeky Merseysider (Kevin Knapman); and tries his luck with a local nurse, Roz (Anna Friel). Then, just before his first reserve game, a meanie steps on his asthma inhaler.
Fired after he goofs, Santiago watches his dream crumble. But hold on: Here comes Gavin Harris (Alessandro Nivola), a fast-living, multi-million pound signee who takes Santiago under his wing when they share a taxi one day. (No other reason is given for their sudden friendship.) Thereon, Santiago rises and rises, fighting off the temptations of fame and fortune to prove himself to his dad back home.
One can only surmise what Michael Winterbottom, pic’s original director, would have made of the computer-generated material; but in fellow Brit, Hollywood-raised Danny Cannon’s hands, “Goal!” moves with the well-tooled inevitability of a major studio release, utterly secure in its own universe. That universe is a strange combination of can-do Yank values and grumpy northern English practicality, and — outside the soccer scenes — most of the pic’s entertainment comes from those two opposites grinding against each other.
Becker cuts a handsome enough Latino profile on screen but his character is vanilla; colorful Nivola fares much better, almost taking over the film’s second half as his character comes into play. Friel, with a Geordie accent as wide as the River Tyne, is believable as the token local love interest, and Frances Barber contribs a colorful cameo as her blousy mom.
Iures is excellent as the wry, foreign club manager, seemingly modeled on Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, handling a bunch of troublesome players. As the loyal Glen, who guides his protege through the ups and downs of U.K. soccer, Dillane looks grateful that he has a Scottish accent to lean on for characterization.
Graeme Revell’s thunderous score is suitably upbeat at moments that count, and lensing of the soccer scenes have a feel for the game’s adrenalin. Cameos by well-known names include Alan Shearer, David Beckham, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho.