Two of my favorite movie genres are true stories and sports movies. Because of this I was intrigued to check out American Underdog when I first heard about it. While most true story movies that I have watched are based on people I have little to no knowledge about, American Underdog is different. The film is about Kurt Warner’s path to the NFL which I was actually already pretty familiar with. As the title indicates Kurt Warner is truly one of the best underdog stories in NFL history. American Underdog is a good football movie, but also a compelling story about overcoming setbacks in the pursuit of your dreams.
American Underdog is a movie based on the true story of Kurt Warner’s career from college to his time in the NFL. Growing up in Iowa Kurt Warner always dreamed of becoming an NFL quarterback, but was always seen as an underdog. Coming from a smaller college Kurt had a longshot of making it in the NFL and struggled to get his chance to prove how good of a quarterback that he could become.
At its core American Underdog is a lot like your typical sports movie. The movie follows Kurt Warner’s career from college through his path to the NFL. Like a lot of sports movies it is an underdog story. I am not going to get into details to avoid spoilers, but Kurt Warner’s path to the NFL was not simple or straightforward. He had to take an unconventional path that rarely succeeds. American Underdog is its own unique story, but it still follows the formula of quite a few other sports/football movies pretty closely. I would say it is a good football movie though where anyone who is a fan of the genre should really enjoy it.
While American Underdog is a football movie, it is as much a story about overcoming adversity. In fact I would say that quite a bit more of the movie is spent off the field than on it. While I was pretty familiar with Kurt Warner’s on-the-field accomplishments and his path to the NFL, I was less familiar with the off-the-field struggles that he had to deal with to even get a chance to make it in the NFL. The movie actually has a pretty big emphasis on Kurt’s family and the struggles they had to overcome. I would say the movie has a religious message to it, but it also isn’t “preachy” so it shouldn’t turn off people that don’t like religious movies. While some people may be mostly interested in the football portions of the movie, these parts of the film really ground the story and make it more compelling. There are some genuinely funny/charming moments in these sections of the movie as well.
The based on a true story genre is well known for fudging the facts in order to tell a more compelling story. Because of this I generally like to look into what actually happened to see how accurate a movie was to the true story. For the most part American Underdog seems to have stuck pretty close to the actual events. This is not surprising as Kurt and Brenda Warner seemed to actually consult quite a bit on the film. While the main events of the film are pretty accurate to what happened, the film does tweak the timeline some especially towards the end of the film to tell a more compelling story. Mostly it makes it seem like Kurt had immediate success in the NFL by making his time in the Arena league seem shorter than it was and that he immediately became a starter in the NFL (he didn’t). This doesn’t adversely affect the overall story much as it doesn’t really change the overall trajectory or message of the story.
As for the acting I thought it was generally quite good. While Zachary Levi is more known for playing “geeky” roles, I think he did a good job as Kurt Warner. Anna Paquin does a good job as Brenda Warner as well. The one thing that was kind of weird about the actor choices though is that the ages were a little off. Much of the movie takes place when Kurt Warner is in his 20’s and yet he is played by a 40 year old actor. In fact Zachary Levi is closer to Kurt Warner’s age right now than the age that he was portraying in the film. This was mostly just a minor annoyance as it really didn’t impact my enjoyment of the film. Otherwise some of the football scenes felt a little off. The movie does a good job in some parts of the football action, but sometimes it just feels not quite right. That is not all that surprising as the football scenes in most movies feel kind of off.
While I actually really liked the off-the-field elements of the movie, I do wish the movie focused a little more on Kurt Warner’s NFL career. Outside of some small clips towards the end of the movie, most of Kurt Warner’s actual NFL career is ignored which is kind of a shame. I rarely say this, but I actually think the movie could have been longer than it actually was. Nothing really needed to be cut from the movie, but I think it should have been a little longer so it could have spent a little more time on his career outside of the very beginning.
Before wrapping up I wanted to take a quick look at the movie’s special features. The Blu-ray features the following special features:
- Audio Commentary with Directors Andrew and Jon Erwin and Producer Kevin Downes
- Inspired (16:08) – A behind the scenes look at the making of the film with a specific look at the casting and the real story of Kurt Warner, Brenda Warner, and Dick Vermeil.
- Making the Cut (13:45) – A feature mostly about the behind the scenes elements of the film including the directing, writing, story, and how they shot the football scenes for the movie.
- A Coach’s Faith (4k and Blu-ray only) (30:48) – A discussion with Dick Vermeil about his career and time with Kurt Warner.
- New to the Scene: Hayden Zaller Featurette (6:10) – A feature about Hayden Zaller who plays Zach Warner.
- Meet the Champion Featurette (14:49) – A discussion with Kurt Warner talking about what it is like to have a movie based on your life and his involvement in making the film.
- Behind the Game Featurette (8:13) – A feature mostly about the directors and how various parts of the film were shot.
- American Underdog: Behind the Story Featurette (3:39) – Mostly an overview of the film using a lot of the footage used in other special features.
- Deleted Scenes (17:44)
- Theatrical Trailer (4k and Blu-ray)
I have to say that I was actually surprised by the special features of American Underdog. Outside of special editions, special features seem to mostly be an afterthought these days. The number, length, and quality of the special features in American Underdog were considerably better than I was expecting though. I am typically not a big fan of special features and don’t usually watch them. I genuinely found the special features on the Blu-ray to be pretty entertaining and informative. If you have any interest in how the film was made, I would recommend checking them out.
Heading into watching American Underdog I had pretty high expectations. While I was already pretty familiar with the story of Kurt Warner’s career, his underdog story was perfect for a football movie. American Underdog is a compelling football movie about overcoming adversity to pursue your dreams. While the story of Kurt Warner’s football career is compelling, the adversity he had to overcome off the field was just as engaging. In a lot of ways the movie spends as much time off the field as it does on the field. I do wish the movie spent a little more time with Kurt Warner’s later career though.
If you have any interest in the story of Kurt Warner and his family or football movies in general, you will likely really enjoy American Underdog and should check it out.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Lionsgate for the review copy of American Underdog used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the Blu-ray to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.