Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner’s story is legendary. He famously worked in a grocery story before working his way into the NFL, where he became a Super Bowl champion and eventually a Hall of Famer. He made the most of his chances and never gave up. Warner is probably the greatest undrafted player in NFL history and one of the great quarterbacks of the 20th century. Naturally, some filmmakers wanted to turn his inspirational life story into a movie.
American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story is set to hit theaters in December. And boy, it already looks weird as hell.
Chase your dream. Watch an exclusive behind-the-scenes look of American Underdog – in theaters this December. pic.twitter.com/IQbjwLTsgO
— American Underdog (@AmericanUnderdg) July 7, 2021
Fans of the movie, if there are any, got a special behind-the-scenes look at the movie via Twitter. It includes an interview with Zachary Levi, who’s portraying Warner, as well as the quarterback himself. It also shows how they filmed some of the in-game football scenes, which is a nice touch. But one thing is clear—Zachary Levi can’t really throw a football. Warner’s story is much more than that, but it sort of puts a damper on the whole Hall of Fame quarterback aspect of the movie. Between that and the costume design, which makes Warner’s flak jacket look like an enormous gut, there are a few NFL continuity problems.
Inbox: Some first-look photos this AM courtesy of Lionsgate, of Zachary Levi as Kurt Warner in upcoming biopic, "American Underdog" – also, Dennis Quaid as Dick Vermeil and Anna Paquin as Brenda Warner pic.twitter.com/edBWTWVQj5
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) July 7, 2021
Call me crazy but I don't remember Kurt Warner looking like this. pic.twitter.com/dqt4YKcWli
— Addicted to Helmets (@addicted2helmet) July 7, 2021
Based on the stills, it’s genuinely hard to tell whether this thing had a made-for-TV budget or if the costumes are an earnest whiff. Levi doesn’t look like a professional football player. Hell, he hardly looks like an actor portraying a professional football player. Sure, Warner was never the most athletic guy on the field. And pro football pads were bulkier back in the day. But these pictures make it look like the slapped a fake gut underneath some replica jerseys they rented from an intramural flag football league.
American Underdog‘s greatest weirdness, though, is that it exists at all. Warner was a great quarterback, sure, and his story is fun for those who have never heard it. But he’s hardly the type of athlete that gets a biopic. Warner’s not nearly iconic enough for some kind of Ali treatment, nor is he anonymous enough for an Invincible or Rudy-esque homage. But once you realize who’s making the film and why, it makes sense.
Andrew and Jon Erwin, the film’s directors, likely aren’t too worried about their film’s football aesthetics. They’re focused on Warner’s backstory, particularly his staunch Christian faith. Their movies include faith-based films and pro-life drama. Football is central to Warner’s success and fame, but tangential to the story the Erwin brothers want to tell. There’s nothing wrong with telling Warner’s story through his faith. He says it’s what kept him going when things were difficult. So what if their Warner can’t throw a football and looks like he’s cosplaying as Jared Lorenzen? What matters most is that he loves Jesus. And if people draw inspiration from that, more power to them.
It’s too early to tell, but American Underdog has all the trappings of a potentially great terrible sports movie. Great in the sense that its dreadful football portrayal and choreography actually exist and that we’ll be able to watch it with our eyes; terrible in the sense that, well…is this even a story worth telling? To some people it will be, and that’s enough to justify making the movie. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be any good. Having Anna Paquin portraying Brenda Warner and Dennis Quaid as St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil should keep this thing just slightly above Lifetime status. But it sure looks like they could’ve eased up on the gut padding.