Producers: Spencer Beighley, Jamal Henderson, LeBron James, Marsai Martin, Joshua Martin and Timothy M. Bourne Director: Anton Cropper Screenplay: Zoe Marshall, Daniel Gurewitch and David Young Cast: Marsai Martin, Omari Hardwick, Kelly Rowland, Rome Flynn, Elijah Richardson, Tony Gonzalez, Adrian Eppley, Trad Beatty, Hanani Taylor, Abigail Killmeier, Tyla Harris, Isac Ivan, Tony Romo and Jim Nantz Distributor: Paramount+
Fans hungry for some pigskin action on those rare occasions when games are absent from networks, cable and streaming services can find temporary relief in this lightweight Nickelodeon family comedy. It also serves as a promotional tool for the NFL and the Madden video game franchise distributed by EA Sports; both were involved in the production, which oddly enough attributes the “teleplay” to three scribes working from a “screenplay” by Richard T. Jones, Jeremy Loethen and Tim Olgetree—a curiously tangled credit.
The domestic side of things centers on the Coleman family, dad Bobby (Omari Hardwick), mom Keisha (Kelly Rowland) and teen daughter Callie (Marsai Martin). Bobby is a Heisman trophy winner whose twelve-year post-college career as a pro running back has been blighted by a tendency to fumble the ball. A series of trades has led to the family’s repeated relocations (one wonders, given his history, why any team would have wanted him at all), and now they’ve wound up in Atlanta, where he must compete for playing time with the Falcons’ arrogant young hot-shot Anderson Fisher (Rome Flynn). And when he gets on the field, his habit of dropping the ball persists.
Meanwhile Callie, a math wiz, is trying to make friends at her new school. She catches the eye of the Robotics club when she demonstrates her tech skill by using her phone to turn the campus sprinklers on some mean girls, and accepts their invitation to join them in trying to win a national contest.
She also shows off her expertise on the Madden Football video game series by thrashing all the team members at a party at Fisher’s mansion. Her dad, whom Anderson beats, is furious when he finds out that she’s accepted Fisher’s gift of a pre-release copy of an addition to the series—one celebrating him—and they argue over it in a parking lot during a rainstorm. As they try to wrest the game away from one another, a bolt of lightning strikes it.
Though neither is hurt—rather implausible, since it sends them both flying—there’s an aftereffect: Callie’s endowed with the power to direct Bobby’s actions on the field through the game, and her aptitude on the controller, combined with her mathematical insight into pigskin strategy, enables her to turn him into an absolute phenomenon. Soon he’s challenging Fisher’s stats in yards gained and scoring touchdown after touchdown.
Everything seems great, even after Bobby learns what an important role Callie’s playing in his triumph. Of course there are problems, as when Nate (Elijah Richardson), the handsome robotics guy Callie gets interested in, messes with the video game and makes Bobby do some pretty weird stuff, stoking Fisher’s suspicions that something is rotten in Atlanta. Neither father nor daughter, moreover, is keen on keeping what’s happening from mom. And the time she has to devote to manipulating Bobby’s moves on the field means that Callie falls behind in her robotics work, endangering her classmates’ preparation for nationals.
But a real crisis comes when Callie and Bobby argue about how his family has always played second fiddle to his determination to succeed on the field. That leads to her using her control over his moves to make him do very peculiar things during a crucial game that commentators Tony Romo and Jim Nantz can’t help but wonder about. It brings him to his senses and, wonder of wonders, helps restore both the family dynamic and his own career.
So long as Martin and Hardwick rein in their tendency to over-exuberance—something typical in Nick fare—they make a likable pair. The movie is basically a father-daughter piece, and so no other cast members matter overmuch but for Flynn, who really goes overboard as their voluble antagonist; director Anton Cropper, known for his television work, probably should have brought along some chill pills. (Tony Gonzalez, who plays the Falcons coach, is, of course, a former NFL player, while Romo and Nantz are actual broadcast commentators. None of them excel in their roles here.) Visually “Fantasy Football” has the glossy, bright look of a Nickelodeon sitcom, and moves along like one: credit (or blame) is due production designer Steven J. Jordan, cinematographer Anthony Hardwick and editor Sarah Lucky. The energetic, intrusive score is by Kovas.
Except for the incessant product placement, this cable-ready concoction is an inoffensive but instantly disposable piece of juvenile football fluff.