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A Losing 'Game'

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 22, 2005; Page WE36

It could be that director David Anspaugh and Angelo Pizzo (the filmmaking team that made the enjoyable sports films "Hoosiers" and "Rudy") are soccer fans. But judging by this movie, which features Patrick Stewart, Gerard Butler and Wes Bentley, I doubt it.

Based on true events, the movie's about the rapidly put-together American team that entered soccer's world cup in 1950 and faced the intimidating English team, containing such greats as Stanley Mortenson and goalkeeper Bert Williams. Against all odds, the Americans prevailed 1-0 in the Brazilian town of Belo Horizonte. But this account makes too Hollywoodish a meal of things.

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It's cheesy and formulaic, even though the narrative elements (an American team that's socially divided between snooty WASPs and working-class Italian Americans) are potentially interesting. The dialogue and acting are flatter than a punctured ball. And the staging of the soccer action on the field -- surely the primary reason for any soccer fan to watch this -- is uninspired.

Locally loved soccer pro John Harkes, who captained D.C. United to two title cups and other glories, has a role in the movie as one of the players. (His hair is dyed some weird color, perhaps to make him look younger.) But aside from watching him pull one or two Harkesian passes and shots, there's almost no reason to sit through this thing. One day someone will make a fine soccer film. This isn't that day.

THE GAME OF THEIR LIVES (PG, 101 minutes) --Contains a little trash talking on and off the pitch. Area theaters.


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