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‘Rudy’ (PG) and ‘The Program’ (R)

By Norman Chad
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 03, 1993

I was just thinking the other day: They haven't made a good movie about college football since "Knute Rockne -- All American." And -- boom! -- the next thing you know, Hollywood produces two new efforts to capture the grit and grandeur of America's fall heroes. There is "Rudy," a factual fairy tale about Notre Dame, and there is "The Program," a fictional hairy tale about the rest of college football.

Well -- and it's going to pain a lot of Golden Dome detractors to hear this -- apparently you can't make a good college football film without Notre Dame. "Rudy" is A-OK; "The Program" is DOA.

"Rudy" is based on the true story of big-hearted Daniel E. "Rudy" Ruettiger, who battles improbable odds in the early 1970s to fulfill his dream of making the Notre Dame football team.

Despite his lack of athletic and academic abilities, Rudy -- played by Sean Astin -- obsesses about Notre Dame. He talks about Notre Dame incessantly, he memorizes Rockne's famous locker room speeches, he wears this ratty Notre Dame jacket everywhere. This guy REALLY WANTS to be part of Notre Dame. (Hey, I thought about going to Notre Dame too, but Maryland had better parking.)

But after high school, Rudy goes to work at a Joliet, Ill., steel mill with his father and two brothers. Then, when his best friend is killed in an industrial accident, Rudy decides to follow his dream to South Bend, Ind.

Once there, Rudy is helped by Notre Dame's Father Cavanaugh (Robert Prosky) in his attempt to get admitted to the school. Rudy enrolls at nearby Holy Cross Junior College, and in the meantime, he wants to paint Notre Dame helmets, he tries to be part of the Notre Dame card section, he helps out the Notre Dame groundskeepers, he even sits in Notre Dame's football stadium after games that he cannot attend. This guy REALLY WANTS to be part of Notre Dame. At one point he asks Father Cavanaugh, "Have I done all I can?" (Frankly, I expected the term "booster money" to come up at that moment. Oh, that's right, I've got the wrong film; that's definitely "The Program.")

Rudy finally gets admitted to Notre Dame, makes the "scout team" under Coach Ara Parseghian -- which means he practices with the football team all week but never dresses for games -- and the film concentrates on Rudy's efforts to make the roster just one time and get into a game. He's the last guy on the bench, but ...

It's a happy ending.

(It's from the makers of "Hoosiers.")

"Rudy" is what is called "a feel-good hit" -- or the cinematic opposite of Chuck Cecil.

In fact, the film is so uplifting, I felt like calling up Lou Holtz for brunch.

(Warning to fans of "North Dallas Forty," "Semi-Tough," "The Longest Yard" and "NYPD Blue:" "Rudy" contains NO sex, NO violence and NO profanity.)

Then there's "The Program," in which one might want to consider wearing a helmet while watching.

Quickie review: If you have a choice between plucking down $7.50 for "The Program" or $8.95 for any ABC pay-per-view game, I'd splurge on Brent.

In "The Program" we follow a single soap-opera season of the Eastern State University Timberwolves. (The movie attracted a lot of negative attention for a scene in which young men tempt their fate by lying down in front of oncoming traffic, a scene that was excised once it was imitated by some kids around the country to fatal effect.)

What remains of the film is one big cliche: a veteran coach who needs to make a bowl game to save his job, boosters giving players envelopes after games, a Heisman Trophy-candidate quarterback with working-class roots, a defensive end on steroids who smashes his head through car windows, a trash-talking all-American linebacker who suffers a season-ending injury and, of course, two tailbacks competing for the starting job -- and Halle Berry.

Halle Berry's character, incidentally, is named Autumn.

(I once dated a woman in college named Abacus. By the way, how come you never see CPAs or sportswriters trying to win over Halle Berry in these movies?)

Here's some actual sample dialogue from the film:

"What are you, one of those trust-fund princesses?"

"This guy loves anything that wears a skirt."

"Okay, defense, let's stuff them one time for Alvin!"

The film includes brief roles for Chris Berman, Bob Neal and Lynn Swann, who are miscast as professional broadcasters.

The lead character ostensibly is Coach Sam Winters, but the film never really focuses on the ethical compromises he needs to make and steers away from him. Thus, James Caan -- playing the coach -- appears in what amounts to a series of cameos. In fact, Caan seemingly just walks through his role, perhaps wondering how he got from "Brian's Song" to this thing.

There appears to be a happy ending, mostly because you're happy to see it end.

Frankly, the only thing that might've saved this film was someone like Rudy. But he'd be a PG gent in an R world and, believe you me, this guy REALLY WOULDN'T WANT to be part of "The Program."

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