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The Express Blows It

Published October 10, 2008 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Universal Pictures
The Express PosterThe Express
I felt no emotional connection whatsoever to The Express. It's not because I'm not a sports fan. I relate to most great sports classics on a storytelling level, like Rocky, Rudy and The Air Up There. The Ernie Davis story has all the makings of a poignant, rousing triumph over adversity, but it blows it on every count.

Movie Review: The Express

Right away the PG racism seems tame, although I did give it credit at least for being PG-13. I didn't know you could use the N-word at all in a PG. Anyway, the pre-title tease is so lame, if that's their intro they don't have much to come.

Young Ernie is just obnoxious. He stutters sooooo badly it's just too much. We already know we're facing racism and underdog issues. Considering Davis overcoming his stutter is not even part of the movie, it's really not relevant to the first act.

Then the film gets triumphant way too early. Just making it to college is such a reward, and they start winning games right away, what exactly is the journey? And what are the stakes?

If it's for Ernie to overcome the legacy of Jim Brown before him, that would be interesting. It's not that though. Once he starts playing, nobody really mentions Jim Brown again.

If it's for Ernie to integrate with the mostly white team, I'm so not invested in that. There's a little infighting, but only between Davis and generic other players who aren't even established as characters.

Is it for Davis to set a precedent as the first African-American Heissman Trophy winner? I mean, honestly, are they going to make a biopic about Halle Berry and Denzel Washington's Oscar wins?

Is it for Davis to bring tolerance to the sport in the '60s? Well, he didn't seem to do that. That may be culturally important but it's not in the movie.

Maybe it's just for Davis to win games, but then so what? Even then, they sweep all their victories so what's the suspense?

Perhaps the most compelling minor plot thread is Davis overcoming unfair referees. So they let the other team pound on him and they don't call his touchdown. Boo hoo, you have to make a goal line play to score your points. <P> After all this wondering about the point of the movie, it finally told me. It's dignity. I actually needed the coach's explanation of the entire movie, because it's not evident from the film itself.

The film gets very self righteous teaching all its lessons. Did it ever occur to the filmmakers that we're already on their side? It's the difference between a movie like The Great Debators which presents a tragic reality of history as part of its world, and The Express which seems to think it's telling us for the first time that racism was bad.

I wasn’t even roused by the athletic scenes. There are lots of hits and tackles. A lot of coaches and players talk about lines, gridiron, rush, carry, bowl. It sounds like horse galloping noises in the sound mix, for fans of superreality.

I have a basic understanding of football, enough to follow the Super Bowl or a football movie. The running play that leaves Davis open makes sense. I see how that could work. Once. After that, wouldn't all the other teams catch on that they're going to run the ball with Davis, so they should have 10 men cover him?

Then so much happens in the end of the movie that it's like a whole different movie. THAT's the movie they should have made. The one where all the stuff happens to Ernie Davis.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Universal Pictures

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