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‘Goal!’ is far too familiar to score

Story of an underdog soccer player recalls ‘Miracle,’ ‘The Rookie’ and more
/ Source: The Associated Press

We’re having that same dream again. The one where the unlikeliest underdog — an aged rookie ballplayer, a ragtag hockey team, a humble golf caddy, a broken-down racehorse — gets a shot at major-league sports glory.

In “Goal! The Dream Begins” it’s a working-class Mexican-American soccer prodigy elevated by pure chance from weekend amateur games to a tryout alongside the football pros on Britain’s Newcastle United squad.

Part one of a planned trilogy, “Goal” piles on cliche after cliche in an underdog genre that’s been mined to death lately with such flicks as “The Rookie,” “Miracle,” “The Greatest Game Ever Played” and “Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story.”

Still, the movie manages a few dramatic variations that set it apart somewhat, and Mexican TV star Kuno Becker is earnest and likable, if rather tame and bland, as the young man with all the right moves.

At just under two hours, “Goal” is ponderously long for a movie telling the same story we’ve seen over and over about improbable athletic dreams.

Having made Sylvester Stallone’s “Judge Dredd,” “Goal” director Danny Cannon knows something about ponderousness. Yet you’d think his tenure as a writer, director and producer on the briskly paced “CSI” television franchise would have rubbed off more.

There are repetitive scenes and plenty of fat to cut from “Goal,” which would have been a stronger story at a lean, mean 90 minutes.

Written by the team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (“The Commitments”), along with producer Mike Jefferies and collaborator Adrian Butchart, “Goal” establishes the dreary work life Santiago Munez (Becker) has ahead of him.

Santiago sweats alongside his father (Tony Plana) and other illegal immigrants tending lawns and gardens for the wealthy of Los Angeles.

Backbreaking work for little pay is enough for Santiago’s dad, who thinks he and his lot have no reason to expect anything better. But Santiago’s nimbleness on the soccer field, where he’s a local hero, makes him hungry for more.

In the movie’s most implausible moment, a former British player and scout, Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane), happens to be visiting his daughter, happens to be watching his grandson in a youth soccer league, happens to turn around and glance at an adult practice on the next field and happens to catch sight of Santiago.

Before you can shout “Goal!”, Santiago’s struggling to make the reserve squad for Newcastle, where he finds romance with the team nurse (Anna Friel) and a friend and mentor in a party-boy football superstar (Alessandro Nivola).

The results are “Rocky” with the gloves off, peppered now and then by cameos from real soccer giants including David Beckham and Newcastle star Alan Shearer.

Here and there, the movie deviates a bit from the predictable sports-flick formula, notably in an unexpected twist regarding Santiago’s father.

Dillane is the best thing about the movie, just as he was as a veteran British golfer in last year’s “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” He’s wry, funny, personable — the sort of benefactor every underdog should have in his corner.

In an unusual move, the producers already have filmed part two of their “Goal” trilogy, without waiting to see if audiences turn up for the first chapter. If the second installment is more of the same-old stuff as the first, the dream may be over sooner than they expected.