By Liz Lopez

Rating: B-

National Champions is directed by Ric Roman Waugh (Greenland, Angel Has Fallen) based on the screenplay by Adam Mervis (21 Bridges) and based on the synopsis provided, I anticipated viewing a very interesting story about a young man ready to inspire change in a college athletics system to benefit the students who put their bodies and health on the line each game. I would have liked to learn more about the star quarterback, LeMarcus James (Stephan James), and more about the plans he and his best friend/fellow player Emmett Sunday (Alexander Ludwig) devised to strike before the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship in New Orleans. Some details are provided piecemeal, and it is hard to follow when there are other plotlines and relationships brought into the mix. I really wanted to like this film, especially with some extraordinary performances from the cast (J K Simmons and Uzo Aduba), but ultimately I left the theater more confused than impressed.

LeMarcus wants change for the athletes, yet there is so much commotion made about how he is betraying his head coach, James Lazor (J.K. Simmons), and the established relationship they have had, according to characters in their dialogue, but there aren’t any flashbacks or scenes to reflect a bond. In fact, there is a scene where the coach tells LeMarcus he sees him as a son and LeMarcus rejects such a suggestion, clearly stating that he isn’t his son and has a look of disgust as he states this. So, what did the other characters see in the past between them that the audience has no clue of?

Apparently, Coach Lazor has problems reading his relationships with others, including the one with his wife Bailey (Kristin Chenoweth) who appears to be supportive in public, but she is having an affair with a professor at the university, Elliot (Timothy Olyphant). When this fact and the sexy scenes come up in the story, their affair makes no sense at the time there are tense moments with the football strike. Much later in the film, Mervis’ script has a reveal about the characters, but the intended effect fell flat.

Everyone is out to look for LeMarcus to avoid the strike, from his coach and teammates, as well as someone selected by the NCAA to help fix the situation, Katherine Poe (Uzo Aduba, “In Treatment” and “Orange is the New Black”). When we first see her, she is in a room quietly listening, but her eyes and body language speak volumes and we know there is a force in the room. She fully plays the role of the company rep and will get things done, but when she approaches LeMarcus and friend Emmett, she takes exception to a term used in their conversation and has a ferocious outburst. What a performance!

LeMarcus’ continuous work to have his and the other teams’ players join him is an impressive and assured performance that can garner an audience for National Champions from those who support the issues brought forth in the script. If there is any doubt, watch National Champions on a discount day at the theater, as the performances certainly are worth the price of admission. National Champions arrives in theaters on December 10. It is 116 minutes long and rated R for language throughout and sexual references.

Source: STXfilms

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