The biopic “American Underdog” centers on the quarterback Kurt Warner, a football player from Iowa who had an unconventional rise to becoming a National Football League champion. Warner’s story is inspirational but intricate, and this wan film struggles to balance simple storytelling with the complexities of the sport.
Unlike many football stars, Warner (Zachary Levi) wasn’t drafted into the N.F.L. after graduating from college. For years following his graduation from the University of Northern Iowa in 1993, Warner worked at a grocery store, building highlight reels to send to sports agents on his time off. The film begins in this fallow period, dramatizing how Warner met Brenda (Anna Paquin), the woman who would become his wife. The couple shared common faiths in Christianity and each other. With Brenda by his side, Warner was eventually given a place on an arena football team. The opportunity enabled Warner to prove himself at a professional level, if not yet on an N.F.L. scale — that would come afterward, in 1997, with an offer from the St. Louis Rams (now the Los Angeles Rams). The rest, to football fans, is history.
Romance was an important part of Warner’s story, and the performances from Levi and Paquin are convincing — a feat, given their characters’ inexplicably helmet-headed hairstyles. But the film has minimal insight into how Warner navigated the institution of professional football. The movie’s directors, the brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin (“Woodlawn,” “I Still Believe”), glaze over the details that depict how teams seek talent. Warner’s triumphs seem to rest more on his noble character than on gameplay specifics — a dubious notion given the N.F.L.’s competitive standards.
The Erwins’ film presents a parable of how love and hard work can lead a hero down a prosperous, predetermined path. It’s a pleasant narrative, but it feels like the picture-book version of a more complicated story.
Rated PG for suggested sexual situations. Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes. In theaters.