Ernie Hudson (left) and Woody Harrelson (right) star in “Champions” (Photo Credit: Shauna Townley/Focus Features).

(“Champions” trailer courtesy of Focus Features)

What is your definition of the word champion?

Is it someone that always comes out on top of a competition, doing whatever in their power to one up their opponent?

Or is it someone who refuses to let an obstacle deter them from having a positive outlook on life and mankind.

The offbeat and hilarious “Champions” will show moviegoers that the true champions in life often come from communities that are ignored and marginalized by the mainstream.

In “Champions,” Woody Harrelson stars as Marcus, a genius of a basketball coach who has not reached his potential in the profession for several reasons.

Marcus had talent as a player.

Furthermore, he has obvious talent with the X’s and O’s of the game, designing plays that become the envy of aspiring coaches under him.

But as his boss Coach Phil Perretti (Ernie Hudson) tells him bluntly, he has a reputation of being a prick.

That reputation is why he is stuck being the assistant coach of the minor league professional basketball team in Des Moines, Iowa.

In “Champions,” Marcus’ reputation of being a jerk comes to the public light when he shoves Perretti during a late-game timeout, when Marcus disagrees with the play his boss has drawn up.

Although the Iowa Stampeders usually do not get much national television exposure, the shove seen around the world even makes it to ESPN’s “Sportscenter” where Jalen Rose and Scott Van Pelt express their disgust with Marcus’ actions.

As no surprise, Marcus is relieved of his duties as assistant coach.

To add insult to injury, he gets wasted at a local bar.

Marcus then proceeds to rear-end a parked police car.

The cops, who are arresting two young people as Marcus crashes into their vehicle, understandably turn their attention to Marcus, which frees the two “brothers” from certain detainment.

The “brothers” are thankful for what Marcus has done for them.

However, the judge that is proceeding over Marcus’ DWI case is less than amused.

To avoid jail time, Marcus must complete 90 days of community service.

His community service is coaching a group of intellectually disabled young men, known on the Special Olympics circuit as The Friends.

While Marcus aims to get to the NBA as a coach, coaching in the Special Olympics is a much better option than sitting in a jail cell.

Furthermore, the “job” will only last for 90 days, then Marcus is free to do him and leave Des Moines, Iowa in his rearview mirror.

But the problem for Marcus in “Champions” is he does not have the personality or the ability to not say the wrong things, which could make it difficult to relate to and inspire people with intellectual challenges.

Marcus even must stop himself from saying the R-word when speaking about his new team.

However, if Marcus can remember the words of Perretti, he might actually find success and happiness with his new coaching gig.

In “Champions,” Perretti tells Marcus that he is great with the X’s and O’s of basketball.

However, he has no people skills and no desire to learn anything about his players as human beings.

Coaching is just as much about relationships as it is about play designs.

And if he is to get The Friends to play basketball at an adequate level to become competitive during the Special Olympics, he must dismiss his prejudices and predilection to piss people off, which often sabotages everything that he is attempting to accomplish.

While Harrelson, Hudson and Cheech Marin, who plays Julio, the head of the gym where The Friends practice, are the big stars coming into “Champions,” their younger co-stars almost completely steal the shine from their more seasoned counterparts.

The Friends are smart, self-sufficient, funny as you know what and impossible to dislike or feel sorry for.

In that regard, “Champions” might impact the way uninformed people view those with intellectual disabilities.

Some of those with that label are more intelligent, talented and independent than those without the label.

Additionally, some like Craig (Matthew Von Der Ahe) might have more luck with the ladies than his own coach, Marcus.

And if given the proper coaching, they might even become a dynamic basketball team full of great players.

Well, not Showtime (Bradley Edens) who is determined to shoot the basketball backwards, then proceed to do an obscene celebration dance made popular back in the day by former Houston Rockets champion, Sam Cassell.

While most of The Friends in “Champions” are so successful in life that it is hard to look upon them with pity, one has a story so tragic that it might bring tears to the eyes of moviegoers.

“Champions” only struggles in the fact that some sports movies have become too formulaic with their inclusion of ESPN personalities or other famous reporters from the world of sports.

It seems that every sports movie that has come out recently must include someone from ESPN like “Creed” (Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser from “Pardon the Interruption” or “Creed III” (Stephen A. Smith from “First Take”).

Furthermore, it would have been great if the scene in which Marcus crashes his vehicle into the parked police car did not include two young African-American men being detained by the cops.

Although filmmaker Bobby Farrelly might not have seen the scene through a racial lens, the scene did contain the stereotype of African-American men as criminals.

But even though Farrelly lost two games with the ESPN/men of color getting arrested snafus, that does not stop “Champions” from winning the ultimate championship as a sports movie, thanks to the young stars that have already won in life.







Todd A. Smith
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