Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Any Given Sunday.”
The Movie: “Any Given Sunday”
Starring: Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz
Director: Oliver Stone
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A behind-the-scenes look at the life-and-death struggles of modern-day gladiators and those who lead them.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 52 percent
Brown: We’re a week late with Sports Month here on the JOE-DOWN. But that’s OK because 1. Life gets in the way sometimes, and 2. It’s not like sports are starting on time in real life anyhow. Hell, Major League Baseball isn’t set to start for another week or two!
While Froemming tried to break out spirits with another “Twilight” movie, I figured a good start to Sports Month would be to break our bodies with the bone-crunching, over-the-top “Any Given Sunday.”
Honestly, it’ll be nice to visit an Al Pacino movie before this bullshit entered our lives:
As far as my relationship to “Any Given Sunday”… I saw it as a teenager and remember it being a bizarre flick.
Even more bizarre is when I played high-school football, as a junior, we were about to go into a first-round playoff game against Totino-Grace, one of the best teams in the state. We were coming off a two-win regular season and were expected to get slaughtered. To try and motivate us before the game, the coaches had the team sit in the weight room, turned off the lights and played Pacino’s “game of inches” speech from this movie.
Later that day, we lost 52-9. Serves the coaches right for not being original.
While I try to get over my Al Bundy-like high school glory, give us your first thoughts, Froemming.
Froemming: Is this the first Oliver Stone movie we have reviewed? I think it is, and you know what? It fits the mold of his films pretty well.
It is long, confusing, over-the-top, politics are all over the map, kinda stupid but I am entertained by the end.
I saw this around the time it came out. I thought it was OK, I didn’t know anything about football in 1999, and in 2020 I am still in that boat. Frankly, this sport seems pretty stupid. No wonder all these pro players’ brains are turning into jelly.
Brown, while I woo Jesse Spano from “Saved By The Bell” like our hero Tony in this, why don’t you kick this off?
Brown: Right away, this movie pulls the sin of bad public speeches and college essays by putting up a quote, this time from Vince Lombardi.
Froemming: For a guy who always talked about victory, he must have had the best winning record of his time, right? I am asking because, again, I know nothing about this sport besides The Super Bowl Shuffle.
Brown: Well, the NFL’s championship trophy IS the Lombardi Trophy.
Immediately, we’re thrown into the middle of a football game between the *checks notes* Miami Sharks and *check notes again* Minnesota Americans?
Uhh, sure, movie. I mean, you are saying this is the AFFA (Associated Football Franchises of America) and not the NFL, and this is a universe where the announcers say the Miami Dolphins are real, so this is pretty much a second-tier football league.
Froemming, we’re watching a movie about the XFL!
Froemming: I wish it was. I mean, Oliver Stone is an announcer for this league, which is right up Vince McMahon’s alley.
And this game is quite shocking. Two of the Sharks’ quarterbacks are injured one right after another. I don’t watch football, but I guess this happens all the time.
Also, Dennis Quaid is the star QB. It would have been better if it was his brother Randy, whom we all remember from that time he made a sex video and made his partner wear a mask of Rupert Murdoch.
Brown: It wasn’t even a mask, wasn’t it just a printout of Murdoch’s face? That’s either one step above or below wearing a paper bag.
Froemming: That is what the Star Whackers want you to think.
Anywho, after two QBs are struck down in one game, we get the third in line, “Steamin” Willie Beamen who vomits on the field pretty much right away. And this becomes his thing from here on out. Puking on the field.
Um, Andy take it away:
I’ll never understand sports.
Brown: Oh come on, man, this isn’t the first football movie we’ve watched that involves a player vomiting on the field. “The Replacements” had a lineman spew after eating a bunch of hard-boiled eggs.
Froemming: We reviewed “The Replacements?”
Brown: We did. I get we’ve done the JOE-DOWN for a while, but it was during a Sports Month.
Anyways, Willie is finding a rhythm for the Sharks. Or at least I think he was. It’s hard to tell with how weirdly edited the action sequences are in this movie. Between all the twitchy camera, random cheerleader dancing moments, bone-jarring tackles and James Woods showing up from time to time as the Sharks’ medical trainer, this is what I imagine watching football on LSD is like.
Froemming: It is.
Anyway, we also get shots from up in the owner’s box, where people are drinking and flirting and a dog pisses all over the floor. Is this symbolizing something? I have no idea, this is an Oliver Stone movie.
But we do meet Christina Pagniacci, who owns the Sharks. Her dad left her the team, because Ann-Margret hates football or something.
With Willie on the field, he leads the Sharks to their fourth straight loss in a row. Which means he is destined for glory…by losing and puking all over the field?
I’ll never understand sports.
Brown: Well, if you’re a third-string QB, you’re not expected to do much of anything. But he gave the Sharks a desperately-needed spark.
The man in charge of trying to rein in this plucky third-stringer? Thirty-year coaching veteran Tony D’Amato, played by Al Pacino.
So I’ll say it: Pacino is (REDACTED) great for this role. But when he starts throwing around football jargon… yeah, I don’t believe for a second that Pacino ever got into football.
Froemming: He is as convincing throwing around football jargon as Tommy Wiseau is throwing an actual football.
Brown: Dennis Quaid, I buy as a grizzled vet QB on his last legs as “Cap” Rooney. Jamie Foxx, great choice for Willie Beamen. Sprinkled throughout the cast are former NFL legends like Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor and Terrell Owens. Also, Bill Bellamy is here because this was a movie made in the tail end of the 1990s.
But Pacino… ehh, he makes it work but it’s a little off. I’ll give Pacino credit for just going for it.
So looking at the Sharks’ remaining schedule, they’re at 7-6 and need to win at least two more games to make the playoffs. Also, they’re bye week, which NFL teams get one of those a year, is BEFORE the last week of the season?! That’s (REDACTED) bonkers. NFL rules have bye weeks between weeks 4 and 12. It’s also bonkers that the Sharks still have full-contact practice this late in the season. No wonder they’ve lost four in a row, the players are beat to shit.
Froemming: I’ll just have to take your word on that.
We also see Stone looking into the very real problem with NFL doctors playing down injuries so these athletes can murder themselves on the field. And he does this with world renown jackass and human scumbag, James Woods.
I have a lot of issues with Woods on a personal level, but if a movie needs a raging asshole, he is the guy. Case in point: “Casino.”
Also, Tony has some sage advice for Willie: “Believe me when I say this, you can only get better.” Which I need to remember for my collection of backhanded motivational sayings.
Brown: I’m not taking advice from a man who wears a wool suit jacket in the Miami humidity. Coach D’Amato is the living embodiment of heat stroke.
Froemming: Last time I was in Florida, I got heat stroke. It really sucks.
Brown: Anywho, “Cap” is gonna be out for a while. He’s hoping to make it back for the playoffs, IF the Sharks make the playoffs. And in order to do that, the team needs to lean on the arms and legs of Willie.
There’s also a lot of other egos to maneuver around for D’Amato and company. There’s “Shark” (Taylor), who is a veteran linebacker who is legit crazed/coked up and fighting through a broken neck to make his million-dollar bonus. So basically, it’s LT playing LT.
Then there’s Julian, the team’s high-priced running back played by LL Cool J. Honestly, I kinda forgot LL was in this until I remembered that between one of the lyrics of “I’m Bad” and his appearance in “Deep Blue Sea” that dude is ALL about sharks. He better be in the next Sharknado.
I should also mention that, in one of the non-football sequences where the team is at some party, this movie was the first time I’d ever witnessed a scene where someone snorted drugs off a woman’s body. So, you know, seminal moment for a teenager.
Froemming: We had vastly different childhoods.
Brown: I mean, I was 13 when this movie came out so…
Froemming: I said what I said.
Anyway, we see Willie watching the highlights of the game at home — which they highlight his puking — while Tony is drowning his sorrows in a high-end bar where Jesse Spano propositions him for a night of sex.
She sure has fallen from that caffeine pill addiction.
Brown: She was SO EXCITED to see Coach D’Amato.
… I’ll show myself out.
Froemming: We then see there is trouble within the ownership of the team and its administration. Christina is sick of having a loser team in a loser stadium being coached by a loser coach who keeps in his loser QB whom is past his prime. She is proving this by waving a newspaper at Tony where the local sports columnist, Jack Rose, is crapping all over the team.
Wow, remember when print media had this kind of sway on professional sports? I am literally asking because I have no idea if that has ever been a thing or not.
Brown: I’m sure at some point, but I imagine in 2001, when this movie takes place, that an owner isn’t going to be swayed by one columnist.
I will say, I do think John C. McGinley is perfect as a smarmy reporter in Jack Rose. He’s very much modeled after real-life sportscaster Jim Rome. Now, if only they had McGinley pull a Jim Rome and get attacked by Jim Everett after Rome kept calling him soft by referring to him as women’s tennis player Chris Everett.
Froemming: Rome shouldn’t have been standing there.
Brown: Now, dear reader, are you a little confused by how many different dynamics about this team we’ve thrown at you? I sure as hell was while watching this movie and that’s one of my biggest problems with “Any Given Sunday”: It tries to do SO much that the movie feels very cluttered.
You have ownership dealing with aging players and coaches while also looking at a move to Los Angeles. You have Willie Beamen dealing with the racism throughout his career. There’s rampant drug use and shady dealings with the training staff. I feel like this movie would be so much better if it focused on fewer things. Editing the movie down 20-30 minutes would have helped, too, but since this is an Oliver Stone movie, I’m positive cocaine should have been given an executive producer credit.
Froemming: I thought this too, and I think if it were remade as a mini-series, I think it would be able to give more attention to all these elements instead of cramming them into an almost three hour movie.
Brown: ESPN actually tried to do that (or at least something similar) in 2003 with the show “Playmakers.”
It lasted one season. Doesn’t help when the NFL doesn’t like the series and pressured ESPN to cancel it.
Froemming: Yeah, I said mini-series. I don’t see this story going beyond what we saw in the movie.
Anyway, after a win, Willie is now front and center of attention. He goes to a party with his girlfriend, and it seems this world is not something she cares for. What with the doing blow off boobs in bathrooms and whatnot. But amid all this, we see more backdoor dealings between ownership and the city. Christina wants a new $250 million stadium by the city. The mayor cites the losing streak. All this is stupid because tax payers should not be footing the bill for rich people’s toys like this.
Brown: Well, about 10 years later, Miami would build a baseball stadium for the Marlins and cost the county $2.4 billion over 40 years in one of the worst stadium deals ever.
Froemming: This is the very, very real idiocy of the world we are living in.
Oh, Willie and his girlfriend breakup. He is turning into a real asshole now.
Christina is also meddling in how Tony is coaching. She wants Cap out and all. Because he is past his prime and it makes zero sense keeping him around. Tony also has problems with the new star QB, as Willie is changing the plays on the field.
What I am learning from this is Tony is not a very good coach.
Brown: D’Amato is very old school. Christina brought in a new offensive coordinator, played by Aaron Eckhart, that is meant to spring the team’s offense to the 21st century. It’s also clear that Eckhart’s character is gonna replace D’Amato at season’s end.
D’Amato has every right to be resistant to Christina but he’s dickish about it since any time they get into an argument, he brings up her dead dad.
Froemming: One, she believes in Harvey Dent.
Froemming: Two, when people say someone is “old school” and “we’ve always done it this way” they are telling me they fear change and will remain stagnant.
Brown: You’re not wrong. When Willie, a black quarterback, takes over, D’Amato is pretty quick to assume Willie had no dad and played football “in the hood.”
But, jumping ahead briefly, when D’Amato tries to tell Willie how to be a leader, Willie goes on about how guys like D’Amato have bossed him around with large racist undertones. Willie talks about getting booted from his college team because a booster gave him some money to buy clothes for a wedding (and yes, money in college football is a colossal problem). There’s his stint in San Diego where a coach thought he would be better at defensive back, resulting in Willie’s rise being hampered because he got injured.
Frankly, Willie’s story should be its own movie instead of being a three-minute speech in the middle of this movie. I thought that was the most interesting sidebar in a movie chock-full of them. But no, Coach D’Amato would rather his QB conform.
I’d be weary of following D’Amato’s directive. We see later that this is a man who pays hookers via check. I’ll never understand why Elizabeth Berkley didn’t envision Zack Morris’ head on Coach D’Amato’s body and start stabbing him repeatedly.
Froemming: Well, we head into the game that will decide if the Sharks make the playoffs or not. Tensions are high, LL Cool J needs his stats up so he can get his endorsement deals and Willie is changing plays on the field. Yeah, he leads them to victory, but the old guard is too stupid and stubborn to realize they might be in the wrong. It is classic Principal Skinner Syndrome.
Brown: So in the small time that Willie’s thriving as the Sharks’ QB, he gets all these magazine covers, endorsements, proclamations of being a superstar, a long interview on Jack Rose’s show where he throws his coach and team under the bus, AND makes this rap song…
Is it just me or is all this happening WAY too fast, Froemming? This is all taking place over the span of two-to-three weeks.
Froemming: I don’t know anything about sports. Maybe?
Yeah, Willie’s star is rising and he is getting pretty cocky with his teammates and his coach. This leads to him being demoted back to the bench and his new ride being destroyed by a chainsaw. He made enemies out of his teammates, as Tony warned him not to do over some disgusting jambalaya.
Brown: A couple things.
- Why did no one on set correct Pacino’s pronunciation of jambalaya? It’s JUHM-buh-lai-uh, not JAM-buh-lai-uh.
- What’s with this random (REDACTED) the players use to incite chaos. There’s Shark cutting Willie’s Suburban in half with a saw, which is crazy enough. But earlier in the movie, after a win, one of the linemen throws a live alligator into the team’s shower. Why?! And how do you get an alligator to a football stadium on EXTREMELY short notice?!
- Every scene with Lawrence Taylor, this is all I think of:
Froemming: Well, let me retort.
- He is Al (REDACTED) Pacino, that’s why.
- They have an alligator guy. Also, Willie brings the chaos once he is overheard talking crap about his teammates at a coke party. Frankly, the chainsaw was pretty benign given the circumstances.
- You’re not wrong.
Amid all this, we also have Private Joker from “Full Metal Jacket” concerned about the health of the players. He thinks Shark might have some serious problems, which James Woods laughs off as nothing. So he goes about and runs some tests and BAM! We find that Shark, a man who just cut a Suburban in half with a chainsaw, is one bad hit away from dying.
Brown: But, he’s three tackles and a sack away from hitting a million-dollar escalator in his contract so he agrees to sign a waiver to play so the team won’t get sued if he gets paralyzed/dies.
Again, that in itself is a fine movie plot, but it’s a throwaway here.
This all happens while the Sharks get ready for a playoff game in Dallas. We didn’t mention their regular-season finale that was played in what amounted to a monsoon (umm, football does have lightning delays, guys).
Froemming: Oh, you mean the Monsoon Bowl? That is what they called the thing. Amazing they know when it is going to rain like that.
Brown: I think it was just the announcers calling something the (noun) Bowl. Kind of like how every scandal ever is (noun) Gate.
Froemming: I said what I said.
Brown: Anyways, the Sharks get pounded in that game and Willie gets the holy hell beat out of him because the team doesn’t want to play for him or something? I think it’s because their offensive line is (REDACTED) terrible. I mean, if they could block, they wouldn’t be on a third-string quarterback to begin with.
Froemming: They are letting him get hit because of the crap he said at the coke party.
Brown: The coke party and the Jack Rose interview.
Froemming: He lost the players, they are already in the playoffs, what do they care if he gets hit. Cap is slated to come back for the next big game. They don’t care if old Willie gets knocked around a bit.
But Tony does. He is irate about what he saw on the field. If he were a good coach, he’d have his team under control. But he isn’t a good coach. In fact, he is a pretty bad one.
Brown: He’s not long for the coaching world, especially when Christina tells him before the playoff game, in no uncertain terms, that he’ll be gone at the end of the year. This is all happening while Aaron Eckhart’s character is in the room giving the “well, this is awkward” face, and rightfully so.
Froemming: You could say though his character is a two-face.
I’ll show myself out.
In the buildup to the Dallas game, “Cap” is struggling with what I can best describe as PTSD. He’s still not right after his broken back just WEEKS ago. He’s getting flashbacks from the hit and he’s finally getting that his time is done. He tries telling his wife (played by Lauren Holly) and she’s berates him instead of, you know, being relieved that her husband won’t be a human tackling dummy anymore. Then there’s D’Amato, who talks “Cap” into giving it one last go like we’re in a (REDACTED) ‘80s action movie.
Froemming: It is also hinted that Cap is starting to suffer from what we now know as CTE: He talks about his brain being out of whack with memories and thoughts being scattered, and he says he sometimes cannot remember how to hold cutlery. So he has that on top of the PTSD, the years of physical abuse on the field, a real piece of work for his wife and a coach who ignores all of this because he needs to stick it to the owner.
But hey, the fans want to see him get smashed by other guys at full-speed because America.
Brown: Considering the timeframe and the lack of understanding of CTE at the time, I think they were going for more of the Parkinson’s angle. But you’re right, “Cap” definitely will be one day diagnosed with CTE. America’s sport, everyone!
Things aren’t looking too promising. But then D’Amato delivers this speech and rallies the troops. It sure as hell didn’t work for the 2003 Fridley Tigers but it worked for the Miami Sharks. And truthfully, it’s one of Pacino’s best acting moments.
This is followed by one of the most insane, baffling action sequences I’ve seen in a movie.
First, they’re playing the Dallas Knights, whose field is so (REDACTED) weird there is what looks like a painted end zone in the middle of the field. The Knights’ uniforms are hot garbage. Honestly, the look of the football game in “Starship Troopers” makes more sense than what’s going on here.
And at one point, a Knights player loses an eye for NO GODDAMN REASON. Well, other than something to throw in the trailer.
That eyeball scene, it’s such a throwaway moment but it’s so dumb, it’s the one thing everyone remembers from this movie that isn’t Pacino’s speech.
Froemming: Given Stone’s penchant for conspiracy theories, I chuckled that the field had the Illuminati eye-in-the-pyramid thing painted on it. He should have named the Knights the Council on Foreign Relations or The Freemasons.
And yeah, the eye was the only thing I remembered from the movie from when I first saw it. It is a pretty stupid scene.
But Cap is in the game and it is not that great. He is skittish from all the damage this sport has done to him. He is swapped out for Willie for obvious reasons.
Brown: No, he actually plays pretty well. The Sharks are only down three and “Cap” only gets pulled because he gets reinjured after taking a huge shot on a touchdown at the end of the half.
Froemming: Wait, they are losing and you are saying he is playing well. Is this like golf when negative numbers are better?
Brown: They’re losing because the defense can’t stop Dallas. “Cap” has done all he can; he’s got nothing more to give. He’s now another disposable hero on the gridiron.
Froemming: So he has nothing to give to achieve victory. Got it, negative numbers in football too.
Brown: Quit gaslighting me, Froemming!
Anyways, with “Cap” getting the hook, D’Amato tells Willie he’s starting the second half. At the same time, Christina goes down to the locker room and berates D’Amato for playing “Cap” over Willie, not knowing the call had already been made.
Man, this movie does everything it can to make Cameron Diaz a colossal shrew, which is kind of a shame. Besides, “Major League” did it better.
Froemming: They even have Charelton Heston say she would probably eat her own children. But since when did he care about children?
Brown: I like Charlton Heston better when he was reading off Ice T/Body Count lyrics.
Inspired by what “Cap” did in the first half, Willie, I guess, finally conforms to the kind of leader D’Amato wanted him to be. He apologizes to the team and runs the plays the coach wants him to do.
The lesson here: If you’re a strong-willed, principled black man, you can only go so far. It’s until you do what the white man wants you to do that you’ll truly succeed. Nice message, movie…
Anyways, the Sharks and Knights have a back-and-forth game, with the Sharks getting the ball for the final drive.
How did they get possession back? Because Shark crippled himself by making a stop at the line of scrimmage on fourth down. So great, he gets a million dollars, which will go straight into medical bills when Shark goes into traction.
Froemming: But they win the game as Willie runs it in for a touchdown! It is quite the moment, as he learns that racist lesson and Shark will probably never be the same again after this game. The Sharks are on their way to a victorious season!
Until they lose the next game and are out of the playoffs. We learn this as the movie makes us sit through the credits to find out what happens next.
Tony is leaving the Sharks all right, but not for retirement. As his grand final FU to Christina, at his farewell press conference he announces he will be the head coach of some expansion team in New Mexico and has signed Willie to be his starting QB!
Brown: This scene is such bullshit.
Considering how big sports journalism was even at that point, there’s no (REDACTED) possible way D’Amato is able to break the news of both his going to New Mexico and Willie’s signing without someone finding that out beforehand. Plus, Christina shouldn’t be caught off-guard by this: surely she negotiated with Willie and his agent and had to have heard they turned down the Sharks’ offer to go to New Mexico.
But no, D’Amato has his Joan Callamezzo GOTCHA moment. All he needed was the GOTCHA Dancers.
Froemming, let’s get to recommendations before my eye pops out.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: As stupid and coked-up this movie clearly is, it’s an entertaining watch. So yeah, watch this and roll your eyes when it does stupid things.
Froemming: Yeah, it is as entertaining as it is baffling. So, an Oliver Stone film.