Presumably it was the promise of an all-expenses-paid stay in Bonnie Scotland, as well as a sizable paycheck, that induced yanks Robert Duvall and Michael Keaton to undertake major roles in Michael Corrente’s formulaic soccer movie. “A Shot at Glory,” as its utterly generic title well suggests, leaves absolutely no cliche unexploited in telling the tale of a down-and-out second-tier team from a small but rabidly supportive town that, through the addition of a ex-champion star to its roster, makes its way to the big national cup game. Duvall, sporting an accent thicker than that of any of the real Scots surrounding him and scowling and grimacing throughout, is the grumpy but masterful old coach Gordon McLeod, who, in his supremely principled way, eggs them on, hoping finally to defeat the well-oiled, and much more generously funded, squad commanded by smug rival Martin Smith (Brian Cox). Keaton, resorting to the smirky attitude he’s happily left behind in other recent films, is Peter Cameron, the incongruously American owner of the underdog team, who’s thinking of moving the franchise to Dublin to make more money with it. And Scottish soccer (or “football”) icon Ally McCoist, whose on-field talents definitely outstrip his thespian ones, plays the arrogant ex-champ Jackie McQuillan, who has to learn to give his all to the game again. In an especially hokey plot turn, McQuillan also happens to be McLeod’s former son-in-law, and the curmudgeon is still stewing over the younger one’s mistreatment of his daughter Kate (colorless Kristy Mitchell)–as well as angry with Kate for marrying him in the first place; and Jackie’s reconnecting with Kate, along with his exhibition of his former trouble-making attitude and professional laxity, infuriates the coach further. As a subplot obviously intended to give American audiences someone with whom to identify, a young rookie goalie who played at Darmouth (handsome hunk Cole Hauser) is added to the mix; need we say that he’s hustled into service at an especially dramatic moment in the big championship game, when the first-stringer is injured? To be fair, Denis O’Neill’s otherwise supremely predictable script does attempt one twist at the end to avoid a simplistically triumphant “Rocky”-style denouement, but what it offers up instead is equally sappy in its attempt at studious uplift.
After “The Mean Machine” and now this flick, on begins to wonder whether it’s possible to make a good film about soccer. To be honest, the game doesn’t appear to afford an awful lot of excitement when transferred to the screen; or perhaps it’s simply that the rules remain obstinately baffling to most observers on this side of the Atlantic–in that respect it’s not in the same league as cricket, but that’s another story. Or perhaps it’s merely the level of violence that we regularly hear about (involving the hooligan fans of European football teams) that renders it a subject of dubious interest (and some such louts make appearances here, too). In any event, “A Shot at Glory” certainly doesn’t make the contests it depicts at all interesting. That’s partially due, one suspects, to the clumsy, truncated accounts of them patched together by Corrente; a viewer certainly doesn’t want more footage–the various narrative elements already prolong the running-time to an unconscionable two hours–but instead of showing us what’s happening in them, he and O’Neill merely insert reams of voice-over commentary from two ever-present broadcasters, whose remarks unhappily feature every inane stock phrase of the profession, spelling out in ludicrously simplistic terms and hoary cliches what we should be understanding from the images rather than being told about in these hackneyed terms.
“A Shot at Glory” was actually finished some time ago, and was left in the can for nearly two years before being released. Why anyone thought that it was worthy of exhumation now is a puzzle. Other mysteries abound about it, too. How can it be that Jackie and Kate’s young son–who has an unnaturally enormous forehead, by the way–can constantly be clothed in the same spiffy little soccer uniform and yet never get it even slightly dirty (and why isn’t he brought out on the field, as all the other players’ children are, at the beginning of the final game?) More importantly, what ever induced Duvall, after putting himself on the line for a brilliantly personal piece like “The Apostle,” to agree to co-produce a bit of cornball nonsense like this? Such are deep questions for which satisfactory answers are unlikely ever to be offered.