Gridiron Gang

Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Sept. 15. Rated PG-13. 120 minutes.

Former pro wrestler Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, who always made a good show of selling fake violence, stars in Phil Joanou’s well-meant trifle as an idealistic corrections officer who starts a football team at a juvenile detention center in L.A. Never mind the obvious parallels to The Longest Yard and Remember the Titans; what we get here is one huge, indigestible sports-movie platitude. The troubled, belligerent teenagers are variously appealing—Jade Yorker as a gangbanger who shot his mother’s abusive boyfriend, Paul Higa as the team’s talented but insecure quarterback, Trever O’Brien as the token white boy, etc.—but it’s just another overdose of inspiration, pure and simple, about Winning and Losing. As the Rock himself would have to acknowledge, it means to be the Charging Double-Leg Spinebuster of football-coach hero stories.

That the movie’s based on what Hollywood always likes to call a “true story” makes little difference: True, false, or fudged, Gang massages and manipulates us with a fervor bordering on shamelessness. The meaning seems clear enough: Societally endorsed rage, governed by the 15-yard personal-foul penalty, is preferable to the freelance rage of the streets. A disclaimer in the final credits reads: “Some characters and incidents are fictional.” We can just imagine. BILL GALLO