Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Better Than Average
10 to Adult
1 hr. 34 min.
Year of Release:
This unusual picture, featuring NFL defensive lineman Reggie White playing a thinly-disguised version of himself, is targeted to the problems of inner-city youth. Instead of having a normal movielike focus and a clearcut climax, it sort of rambles. But that might be deliberate, an illustration of the confused lives and hard choices that today’s kids are faced with.
While Green Bay Packers player Reggie Knox (White) is back home in Knoxville, Tenn. for a visit, the young nephew of an old friend attempts to rob a store, chickens out, then shoots himself in the mouth rather than face his “buddies.” Reggie attends the funeral; and we learn that the dead boy has two older brothers, one of whom is also getting into trouble on the street. The boys’ uncle takes them to Portland, Oregon to give them a fresh start; but that city too has weapons in school, gangs, and drug dealers.
Knox is a part-time minister; we see him on the podium in a positive-themed, emotional worship service at an interracial church. Roosevelt Grier, the 1960s L.A. Rams defensive lineman who, like White, is a minister in real life, plays Rev. Jeremiah Knox (Reggie’s father?), the senior pastor. After the funeral, the younger Knox receives troubling dreams which may be a message from God. He retires from the NFL and accepts a high-school teaching and coaching job in Portland. The two boys we previously met are attending that school, and Knox tries to help them—and all his students—be the best they can be. The results are mixed. This film was made before the rash of highly-publicized high school shootings that began with Columbine; but Knox runs afoul of an implied “zero-tolerance” policy on weapons when he tries too hard to help one troubled boy instead of giving him the Joe Clark “out-the-door” treatment.
This film was released during the Packers’ late-1990s success. Reggie has a little fun with the audience; many NFL players and coaches are seen in bit parts (including Reggie’s real-life quarterback Brett Favre and coach Mike Holmgren as school janitors).
Besides the opening-scene suicide, there’s another shooting of a teenager; both are done off-screen, with no special effects and no blood. One teen who’s been a drug runner, and who tries to leave the business, is beaten up by the dealer’s goons (mostly off-screen). There are fight scenes as Knox and school principal Osaki (Pat Morita, “The Karate Kid”) battle the dealer and his thugs; the fights are bloodless too, and they aren’t staged very realistically. Perhaps that was done on purpose, so the film would be appropriate for a younger audience. There’s some very weak profanity, and at one point Knox slams a student up against a wall. The edgy content may seem pointless to viewers who live in “safe” areas (what are those?), but a recent poll of Junior and Senior Hi boys found that 21% had brought weapons to school the previous year. The percentages would of course be much higher in some areas than in others.
The Christian witness in the film is low-key, mixed with a generic “be your best” message. Part of its effectiveness depends on the viewer’s knowledge of the real Reggie White. he’s the NFL’s all-time sack leader despite early (and repeated) retirement and having played part of his career in the CFL. He was known for clean on-field play and clean living, at a time when many NFL players garnered headlines for dirty hits and for off-field problems with drugs, pandering, rape and even murder. I watched Reggie play for several years; despite his tremendous strength, he dispensed with blockers and sacked opposing quarterbacks as “politely” as possible. Once, when he was listed as “out” for a game and then played it after all because “Jesus healed me,” the press dumbed down his remarks to “He attributed his rapid recovery to a Higher Power.” Reggie lost his chance at a broadcasting career when he made some off-the-cuff remarks to the Wisconsin legislature which the media labeled as “racist” and “anti-gay.” The actual substance of his remarks was: (1) each ethnic group has different God-given strengths, but we all need each other in order to make a complete society; (2) homosexuals shouldn’t be given privileged legal status as though they were a downtrodden racial group, since that dilutes the original intent of Civil Rights laws.
Is this film worth seeing for kids? If they’re in public school, especially in larger cities, it probably is.