Uplifting sports movies are a dime a dozen, and this one follows the musty formula so closely that as you watch it, you’re mentally checking off the boxes in the screenwriter’s manual. Wayward coach redeemed by the experience—check. Ragtag group of kids molded into unlikely champions—check. The hotshot player who learns the meaning of teamwork—check. The initially hostile love-interest who gradually warms to the coach—check. The klutzy kid who scores for the first time at a critical moment—check. The big setback that threatens everything, including the coach’s redemption and happiness, but is finally overcome. The final come-from-behind victory—check. Anybody raised on “Hoosiers,” “The Bad News Bears” and “The Mighty Ducks” could write this stuff in their sleep.
What sets “Crooked Arrows” apart is that it’s about lacrosse, a sport that’s been (sadly?) neglected in the media heretofore (except, of course, for scandalous news stories about alleged player misbehavior), and ties it in with the revival of spirit among the Native Americans who invented it. The latter is treated in a hokey, stereotypical fashion, too—there are episodes featuring inspirational speeches by a tribal elder, sweat lodges, animal spirits, plans to misuse tribal lands for casinos, and an Indian kid manipulated by preppy types for his on-field skill but otherwise treated badly. But it does give the movie some modest distinctiveness.
Brandon Routh, who laid down his Superman cape after a single outing, plays Joe Logan, a member of New York’s Sunaquat tribe who’s gone over to the white man’s side, becoming the golden boy for a ruthless developer (Tom Kemp) who wants to expand his small casino on tribal land into a mega-operation and relies on Joe to persuade the council to let him. Joe’s father (Gil Birmingham), who’s committed to tradition and helping his son recover his roots—the guy is well-off but clearly unhappy with the demeaning role he’s called upon to play at the casino—makes the deal contingent on Joe’s going through a spiritual journey involving his becoming coach of the tribal lacrosse team.
Joe initially doesn’t take the job seriously, but it becomes a way for him to come to terms with his past, including a painful memory of his own days on the field. It will also lead to bonding anew with his father, grandmother, and younger sister Nadie (Chelsea Ricketts), who’s also a lacrosse nut, as well as the tribal ethos represented by shaman Crooked Arrow (Dennis Ambriz, doing the Chief Dan George bit). And to his rekindling a romance with Julie (Crystal Allen), a high-school flame of his who, despite being white, has become an expert on Sunaquat culture and the teacher in the tribe’s one-room school. Her timid son Toby (Jack Vandervelde) is the team shrimp whose confidence Joe will try to bolster.
Of course, there are other players who take the limelight, too—Silverfoot (Tyler Hill), the hunk with a sensitive soul who’s sweet on Nadie but must learn to share on the field; Chewy (Cree Cathers), the chubby but loyal comedian; Maug (Aaron Printup), the forest-wise outsider who turns in his loincloth for a jersey; Reed (Michael Hudson), the intense one. There are also a couple of brothers whose passing ability suggests a special mental bond between them. They all come around to form a winning unit under Joe’s prodding.
“Crooked Arrows” is hokum, of course, but its genial desire to please makes it more winning than the run-of-the-mill David vs. Goliath sports tale. The action on the field comes across as pretty authentic. Even the modest production—the casino looks about the size of a living room, and the big construction project seems to consist of two guys with a bulldozer—is almost charmingly threadbare. There are points at which it goes too far even for the most tolerant—the sudden intrusion of a parade of Native American supporters in the second half of the championship game (joining some famous coaches, pro players and ESPN announcers) is a sappy addendum to what’s already a commercial for the sport. And the rap number over the final credits is pretty embarrassing.
But while “Crooked Arrows” certainly isn’t a good film by any objective standard, it has a good heart, and proves far more tolerable than many blockbuster sports movies.