Marcus (Woody Harrelson) is an assistant coach in Minor League basketball. Hot-tempered, stubborn, and apt to get frustrated during a live match, Marcus eventually oversteps his position during a game and is stood down. On the same evening, he decides to drink heavily and drive his car, causing him to have a terrible accident with a nearby police vehicle.
After attending a court hearing, Marcus is given a second chance and is sentenced to conduct community service. He is offered jail or to train a Special Olympics basketball team over the next ninety days. However, the task of preparing a Special Olympics team is something Marcus has never done before, nor does he have any experience coaching such a team. Now Marcus must lift his game of life and try to lead his new team to victory.
Champions is best described as a comedy with a few touching moments of drama. Naturally, this is also a sports film that focuses heavily on all things relating to basketball. I can’t deny that the plot outline is a carbon copy of Disney’s The Mighty Ducks (which, funnily enough, was initially called Champions). Here, we see our leading hero falling down to his lowest point in life and being forced to help others. Instead of hockey, it’s basketball; instead of young children, it’s a team with intellectual disabilities. While the story may seem familiar, its finale surprised me and ended on a higher note.
Champions works best when we see Marcus interacting with his new team. I also loved watching Marcus learn more about them, work with them as their coach and become a close mentor and friend. The relationship aspect of the film is touching, but at various moments, it’s also an excellent opportunity to have some fun and comedic relief.
The lead performance from Woody Harrelson is acceptable, but like the main story, it’s also nothing new or overly exciting. As a character, I never felt like I was watching anything new or outstanding, but more so just Woody Harrelson playing what I assume would be himself. It’s also not the first time Woody Harrelson has done a comedy about basketball, as some may recall Semi Pro from 2008. Throughout the story, the film also introduces a love interest for Marcus, which not only feels forced and unnatural, but this subplot also takes up substantial screen time, pushing the movie to just over two hours. Whenever the love aspect came into play, I just wanted to skip ahead, hoping to see Marcus focus on his team and interact with them instead. As far as the journey is concerned for Marcus and the team, most of the film’s progress and advancement are caused more due to good luck and coincidences, which also gets tiring.
Overall, the film tells a compelling story of one man making a significant mistake in life, forcing him into a new, unexpected direction and self-discovery. Marcus learns new skills, particularly with personal relationships and controlling one’s stubbornness. Sadly, Champions feels like a carbon copy of Disney’s The Mighty Ducks, with the same concept and minor changes. Granted, the film’s ending does leave its audiences thinking positively and has some form of unpredictability. Like the plot, actor Woody Harrelson doesn’t offer anything overly new, and the film is most heightened and entertaining when his character interacts with the Special Olympics team. Sub-plots relating to a love interest for our leading hero only drag this film on and its runtime. Sure, it’s still a feel-good film with minor gags, but I just wished Champions was something far more significant and different. Instead, it feels like a modern version of something many film buffs have already seen and experienced.