American Underdog: A Powerful Story with A Few Key Misses

Last Sunday we had our evening events at church canceled because of the holidays. So I found myself sitting in a theater with three junior high boys (my oldest and two of his buddies) watching the new Kurt Warner movie American Underdog. I was a high school senior in 1999, and an avid football fan, so the Warner story was a part of my childhood. I anticipated this film with memories of “The Greatest Show on Turf.” I was not disappointed. As an underdog story, the movie is excellent. It is well-acted, with a story of devotion (not just to football) that is inspiring. In fact, one of the best aspects of the film was seeing Warner slowly become more concerned about his future family than he was about pursuing football at all costs.There were a few questions raised on a football level (the movie makes the case that Warner was a highly touted high school prospect who ended up riding the pines at Northern Iowa because he couldn’t stand in the pocket under pressure). But overall, the story is good, and well worth watching.

            My concerns with the film rise at the spiritual level. A key element in the Kurt Warner story is supposedly his faith. Unfortunately, this is a huge miss in the film. In fact, the writers seem to try to go out of their way to make Warner look “just like everyone else” (maybe he was?). There is a point where he is talking to his future wife and he asks he about how important her faith and her church are to her. She responds that they are everything to her, but this is followed by no indication of why faith should be important, and are instead followed by a story line that implies that Warner and his future wife move in together and are engaged in a sexual relationship prior to marriage. I was left wondering if Kurt Warner actually had a legitimate faith, or if the writers of the story just did a terrible job with the faith aspect of the story. There is no gospel here. There is no wrestling over the decision to live in a sinful pattern of behavior. There is no repentance. There is Kurt Warner walking onto a NFL field and pointing to the heavens while saying “thank you.” It rings a little hollow.

            I guess I walked away enjoying the movie as a movie and as a story, but disappointed at the embryonic development of the faith side of the story. I fully realize there is a struggle with faith-based films in how much faith to actually include. Films can quickly feel “preachy” if the creators are not careful. I acknowledge that as a hard line to walk. However, if the gospel is important to a character, then the gospel itself should be on display, not some watered-down pointing to the skies. I believe we can show the world a more developed faith that answers the brokenness in their own hearts without coming across as preachy or pushy.