"Any Given Sunday" is Oliver Stone's least political and most entertaining movie in a good long time. However, its excesses in length, raunch, and volume make this sometimes exhilarating movie a catalogue of the director's strengths and weaknesses.
The movie is ideally typecast with Al Pacino as a fiery head football coach, Dennis Quaid as a Dan Marino-like aging superstar quarterback, Jamie Foxx as a cocky third string quarterback, James Woods as a smart alecky and cynical team doctor, Matthew Modine, as an earnest trainer, and LL Cool J as a mercenary minded running back. In fact, all of these roles seem as natural to the actors as Lawrence Taylor is as an aging all time great linebacker who "changed how the game is played."
The problem is, that all of these fine actors are only asked to do exactly what you expect to see once you find out who is playing each role. Though each is entertaining, there is really nothing about the characters that makes them specific people, nor any real surprises in their development.
Only the female characters are cast against type-- though as is typical in Stone's movies, the parts are less than flattering. There are only two kinds of women in Oliver Stone movies (when there are any) -- those who suffer, and those who cause suffering.
Cameron Diaz plays a brutally ambitious MBA-type who inherited the Miami Sharks from her legendary father, but who cares nothing for the health of her players if it gets in the way of her goals.
Lauren Holly packs a real punch as one of the few original characters in this film. Married to a legendary quarterback, she loves being the queen of the wives club and the toast of Miami; and is willing to risk her husband's long term health to stay in that position for another "two, maybe three years."
Ann Margaret has a small role as Diaz's lush of a mother; and there is a bevy of cameos featuring actors and football figures like Jim Brown, Johny Unitas, Dick Butkis, Edward Burns, and a clever two part role as Charlton Heston, who appears in both in an extended "Ben Hur" clip, and as the league commissioner.
Though the movie is nearly three hours long, the plot can be easily summarized in one paragraph. Legendary pro football coach Tony D'Amato (Pacino) who has sacrificed too much for football, faces the challenge of his career when his star veteran quarterback (Quaid) is injured, and the team's playoff hopes rest in the hands of a talented, but ego-driven, backup, Steamin' Willie Beaman (Foxx).
Stone's signature bag of director's tricks-- super slow-mo, blurry motion, strobe-like action and sudden speedups-- serve him very well in Beaman's early quarterbacking, giving us the sense of confusion and fear he must be feeling. But as anyone who has played sports at a high level can tell you, there is a moment of clarity when it all slows down and makes as much sense as the coach's blackboard. Stone never quite gives us that moment, but sticks with all his gimmicky style camera moves throughout.
The movie is full-tilt Oliver Stone-- loud, bone crunching, and vulgar in the extreme. Even in the quieter moments, people talk about the subject of the movie; and there is no sense that anyone has a real life. This lack of characterization or issues that broaden the story beyond football, means that it will have little appeal beyond a young, macho, football fan audience. A date movie, this is not.
But despite the extreme R-rated excesses, the movie at its heart has themes right out of a Matt Christopher or Chip Hilton youth sports story. There are plenty of earnestly delivered messages about keeping a balance in life, and about how teamwork is good for both the team and the individual.
In the sports movie standings, "Any Given Sunday" is like a talented team that needs more focus. "North Dallas Forty" did a much better job of looking at why men are willing to batter themselves weekly for an ungrateful management, and "The Longest Yard" had far better football sequences. "Jerry Maguire" superbly mixed the business and performance ends of football with far more compelling moral dilemmas. Ron Shelton's "Bull Durham" and "Tin Cup" did a far better job with the pitfalls of stardom.
Stone simply attempts too much in "Any Given Sunday." By trying to cover every aspect of professional football, he has, like a running team trying to execute a two-minute offense, gone for more than he can deliver--even with two hour and forty-five minutes on the clock.