Hollywood formulas exist for a reason.
They work, for starters, especially with Rom-Coms. Do we really want the guy and gal to go their separate ways before the credits roll?
Inspirational sports stories blaze a similar path. “12 Mighty Orphans” embraces formula like a running back clutching the ball for dear life. The Depression-era film packs few surprises beyond Luke Wilson’s transformation into a top-tier movie coach.
It’s still an energizing ride despite the flaws that stack up from the opening moments. Parents might force their kids to watch these “Orphans” with a pad and pen in hand. The life lessons alone are worth the price of admission.
Wilson plays Rusty Russell, a respected football coach who takes what might be the worst gig of the 20th century. He’s tasked with turning an orphanage full of teens into a gridiron powerhouse. What’s missing?
- A field
- Helmets and shoulder pads
- Anything resembling game knowledge
- A football
That’s just a partial list.
Coach Russell plunges ahead, despite some serious stink eye from the orphanage’s leader (Wayne Knight, who sports a mustache but doesn’t actually twist it. It’s implied.). The teens have no clue about the sport, and some are major discipline cases like the grim Hardy Brown (Jake Austin Walker, making the most of a thin role).
Can these unlikely athletes become a team in the best sense of the word? Will football’s power structure prevent these “Mighty Mites” from achieving their goals? Will the great Martin Sheen stop delivering unnecessary narration?
The latter answer, sadly, is no.
It’s one reason the drama often stumbles when it should be soaring. It doesn’t help that Coach Russell’s personal life is so perfunctory, from his cookie-cutter kids to a wife (Vinessa Shaw, “Ray Donovan”) who gets too little screen time.
Far better is the bond between the coach and Doc Hall (Sheen), a wizened soul with a cliched drinking problem.
These lads are used to being ignored, discarded or worse. Life dealt them a rotten hand, and it’s only gotten worse over time. Their new coach insists they sit up straight, study hard and push past life’s punishing lessons.
He all but cries, “make your bed” in the grand Jordan Peterson tradition.
That message is so strong, so unexpected in our woke age that it feels like a CGI effect. What might have played out as corny is given warmth by Wilson, Sheen and the appealing young cast members.
Far worse is a parent-child reunion that plays out like a parody given all that scenery chewing. And why boil a critical part of the coach’s legacy — inspiring the spread offense now used in the NFL — to a child’s coy suggestion?
“12 Mighty Orphans” takes the “Bohemian Rhapsody” approach to fact-based storytelling. That’s a kind way of saying much of the narrative is made up/condensed/retooled. The film barely resembles the remarkable truths behind the real Mighty Mites. A glance at the source material suggests screenwriters Ty Roberts (the film’s director), Lane Garrison (doing double duty as a surly coach) and Kevin Meyer missed some great moments in Mighty Mite history.
Now, let’s fire up a documentary on the subject so today’s teens can get a second dose of bootstrap pulling at its best.
HiT or Miss: “12 Mighty Orphans” is predictable, burdened with unnecessary tropes and plays fast and loose with the real story. It’s also relentlessly enjoyable and inspiring.