Champions, based on the 2018 Spanish film Campeones, is similar to countless other inspirational sports movies, with a cringy but heartfelt twist.
Disgraced league basketball coach Marcus (Woody Harrelson) finds himself sentenced to community service and is instructed to coach “The Friends”, an amateur basketball team entirely comprised of players with intellectual disabilities. Here the combative Marcus needs to change his ways, with the help of Johnny (Kevin Iannucci) and his sister Alex (Kaitlin Olson), who doubles as Marcus’ love interest.
For a movie led by such an awful character, Harrelson does a solid job of bringing his charm to Marcus, where we simply know there is good inside such an arrogant man. Olson does a good job of not just being the manic pixie dream girl and does hold Marcus to account at many stages, continuously reminding him of how to work with these players and eventually melting his cold heart.
The biggest challenge is not using the players as a vehicle for Marcus’ path to redemption but rather seeing them as main characters in their own story. While there are scenes with the characters and how they live their lives, they are seen almost as people to be studied and teaching moments for various people.
While there is one singular scene entirely comprised of the Friends themselves (Madison Tevlin, Joshua Felder, Kevin Iannucci, Ashton Gunning, Matthew Von Der Ahe, Tom Sinclair, James Day Keith, Casey Metcalfe, and Bradley Edens), there is not nearly enough time to show off their acting chops and dynamic energy between their one liners.
With the long goal of playing in the Special Olympics, there is the required motivational speech from Marcus, the realization that he has done wrong by so many people, and the acknowledgment of the challenges faced by intellectually disabled people, yet it still comes across as insincere. If perhaps the players themselves were at the centre of their own narrative, it could have had a different effect.