×

Playoff

This fact-based story of an Olympics-laureled Israeli basketball coach and WWII refugee's decision to work with Germany's low-ranked team feels uninspired and formulaic in its approach to serious issues, while demonstrating no feel for the sports angle.

With:
With: Danny Huston, Amira Casar, Max Riemelt, Mark Waschke, Hanns Zischler, Irm Hermann, Selen Savas. (English, German, Hebrew dialogue)

A shotgun marriage of German Holocaust guilt, Middle Eastern immigrant drama and inspirational sports tale fails to click for “Playoff,” a multinational misfire for helmer Eran Riklis (“The Syrian Bride,” “The Human Resources Manager”). This fact-based story of an Olympics-laureled Israeli basketball coach and WWII refugee’s decision to work with Germany’s low-ranked team feels uninspired and formulaic in its approach to serious issues, while demonstrating no feel for the sports angle. The fact the film is mostly in English will score some global sales, but reception is likely to be muted, passage to home formats speedy.

Max Stiller (Danny Huston, who rather inexplicably shared Montreal’s actor nod with “The Mole’s” Borys Szyc) presumably has his own reasons for accepting the post. But at home, he’s gone from being a gold medal-winning national hero to a traitor, and his wife and mother are not speaking to him.

Popular on Variety

Arriving in 1981 Frankfurt, amid considerable press curiosity, he spends off-hours poking around locations from his childhood he hasn’t seen since fleeing in the early 1940s. His family’s onetime flat is now occupied by Deniz (Amira Casar), a Turkish woman with a rebellious teen daughter (Selen Savas) trying to find the husband they’d expected to join, but who stopped communicating and vanished some months earlier. Drawn to their plight, Max offers to help, even hiring a private eye on his own dime. His frequent visits, however, get Deniz branded a whore by gossiping fellow emigres.

Meanwhile, the basketball team he’s in charge of finds his presence puzzling at best. Team captain Thomas (Max Riemelt) is particularly resentful — his father committed suicide over reasons related to the Final Solution, and he regards Max’s hiring as just another act of contrition that will allow Germans to forget the past. Practice sessions become a power struggle between the two men, with other players stuck in the middle, morale further undercut by Max insisting they all speak English. Nor does the pic rouse itself to much emotional impact during key dramatic scenes, as when Max discovers the truth about the fate of his long-lost father, or Deniz that of her missing spouse.

These various conflicts are dramatically promising enough, but “Playoff” feels slack and uncommitted on nearly every level. Beyond Huston’s somnambulant performance, the biggest letdown is the rote, unconvincing court action — the young actors hardly seem credible as Olympic-level sportsmen, Huston even less so as a world-class coach (the script basically provides him one vague line of strategic advice to repeat ad nauseum), and there’s no style or excitement to the staging of game action.

Support performances and packaging are competent but undistinguished.

Playoff

Israel-France-Germany

Production: An Egoli Tossell Film, Topia Communications, Fidelite Films presentation in association with Wild Bunch and France 3 Cinema. (International sales: Elle Driver, Paris.) Produced by Michael Sharfshtein, Jens Meurer, Olivier Debosc, Marc Missonnier. Executive producers, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery, Judy Tossell. Directed by Eran Riklis. Screenplay, Gidon Maron, David Akerman.

Crew: Camera (color), Rainer Klausmann; editor, Tova Ascher; music, Cyril Morin; production designer, Erwin Prib; art director, Niels Muller; set decorator, Mark Rosinski; costume designer, Gudrun Schretzmeier; sound mixer, Herve Buirette; sound designers, Gil Toren, Stephan Becker; assistant director, Christine Rogoli; casting, Kristin Diehle. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival, (competing), Aug. 20, 2011. Running time: 111 MIN.

With: With: Danny Huston, Amira Casar, Max Riemelt, Mark Waschke, Hanns Zischler, Irm Hermann, Selen Savas. (English, German, Hebrew dialogue)

More Film

  • Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant,

    Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant, Dies at 73

    Gregg Smith, a dancer, casting director and assistant choreographer who had a long association with director Kenny Ortega, has died. He was 73. Smith died on Jan. 1. The industry veteran worked as a performer in the national touring company of the musical “Hair” and in a Los Angeles production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He [...]

  • Oscar Isaac Golden Globes 2016

    Film News Roundup: Oscar Isaac Joins Superhero Movie 'The Great Machine'

    In today’s film news roundup, Oscar Isaac boards “The Great Machine,” Keira Knightley joins “Silent Night” and “The Dog Doc” finds a home. CASTINGS Legendary has closed a deal for Oscar Isaac to star in and produce superhero saga “The Great Machine.” The project is based on Brian K. Vaughan’s comic book series “Ex Machina” [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    U.S. Movie Admissions Plunge 4.6% in 2019 Amid Box Office Decline

    U.S. movie admissions slid 4.6% last year to 1.24 billion, the second lowest admissions number during the current century, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) has reported. North American box office for the year declined 4.1% to $11.4 billion, NATO said Friday. That figure was in line with the estimate released at the end [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'National Treasure 3' Moves Ahead From Disney, Jerry Bruckheimer

    Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer are moving ahead with a third “National Treasure” movie with “Bad Boys for Life” screenwriter Chris Bremner tapped to write the script. Bremner has also signed to write a fourth “Bad Boys” for Sony with Bruckheimer producing. Bruckheimer produced the three “Bad Boys” and the two “National Treasure” movies. The “National [...]

  • Mike (WILL SMITH), Marcus (MARTIN LAWRENCE)

    'Bad Boys 4' in the Works at Sony Pictures

    Sony Pictures has launched early development of an untitled fourth “Bad Boys” movie with “Bad Boys for Life” screenwriter Chris Bremner returning to write the script. Bremner has also signed to write “National Treasure 3” for Disney with Jerry Bruckheimer producing. Bruckheimer produced the three “Bad Boys” and the two “National Treasure” movies. Bremner teamed [...]

  • Corsican Summer, Los Conductos

    Belgium's Best Friend Forever Nabs Berlinale-Bound 'Los Conductos,' 'Corsican Summer' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Brussels-based company Best Friend Forever acquired two debut features, Camilo Restrepo’s Berlinale-bound “Los Conductos” and Pascal Tagnati’s “Corsican Summer.” Both films are produced by up and coming outfit 5à7 films. Set to premiere at the Berlinale’s new competitive section Encounters, “Los Conductos” is a Spanish-language film set in Medellin (Colombia) and loosely based on the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content