- A former minor-league basketball coach is ordered by the court to manage a team of players with intellectual disabilities. He soon realizes that despite his doubts, together, this team can go further than they ever imagined.
- After an incident that leads to him losing his job, an assistant basketball coach, Marcus Marakovich, is given a choice by a judge between serving time in prison or doing community service coaching a team of players with learning disabilities. Marcus initially struggles with coaching this new team, but as he gets to know the players personally, he comes to realize that they are more than just their skills on the court. He also develops a casual sexual relationship with Johnny’s sister, Alex, but complications arise when Johnny becomes attached to Marcus and Alex becomes defensive. Marcus tries to secure a new coaching job with the help of his former assistant coach, but realizes that he has been manipulative and asks him to help with coaching The Friends instead. The team faces challenges both on and off the court, but with Marcus’s guidance, they begin to improve and make it to the semi-finals. However, Marcus receives news that he has been hired by an NBA team, which causes tension with The Friends. As the team prepares for the Special Olympics finals in Winnipeg, Marcus tries to set up a play that will have Darius making the final shot, but his assistant coach warns him that it’s a bad idea. Marcus reevaluates his coaching approach and sets up a different play that leads to a crucial moment in the game.
Champions starring Woody Harrelson and a winning cast of intellectually disabled adults can be considered the more serious Dumb and Dumber. The Peter and Bobby Farrelly original featured protagonists with more hearts than smarts and lots of fart humor. The Bobby Farrelly directed, Champions amps up the heart, double downs on the smart-ass, and essentially ditches the brothers trademark fart and raunchy comedy. Nothing outrageously stupid happens here for the sake of yucks. Bobby Farrelly opts to stay gentle, human and believable.
Call it the Farrelly Brothers mature stage. The men-children have opted to grow up and go their separate ways. Peter put away his dickhead style and went on to direct the Driving Miss Daisy inspired best picture winner Green Book. Bobby has remained silent, directing no features, just occasional episodic tv, since the Brothers last raunch spree back in 2014 with Dumber and Dumber To, the 20 year anniversary sequel the raunch meisters felt they owed their fans.
Champions treats with reverence the things the Brothers once told with irreverence. What Matt Dillon lied about to Cameron Diaz in There’s Something About Mary is now the plot: Harrelson’s Marcus now must coach a team of “retards” to fulfill his court ordered community service for drunkenly crashing into a police car. Marcus’s problem, as the head coach he’s worked for (Ernie Hudson) explains, is that he never gets to know his players as people.
Initially Marcus can only see his team’s basketball traits and quirks. There’s one who doesn’t shower. Others who always shoots backward, or know the exact time a flight from Portland to Chicago should be flying overhead.
But, this being an atonement exercise for Bobby Farrelly—means, the better actors get there own politically correct subplots. And the dumb person humor is kept to an inoffensive minimum. A player with Down Syndrome introducing himself as “your homie with an extra chromie,” is about offensive as the jokes get.
Champions actually is a dumbed down, Hollywood streamlined version of its 2018 Spanish source, Campeones, which won a Best Picture Goya. The reviews I read of Campeones paints it as a grim, dour comedy that doesn’t pull any punches in its depiction of intellectual disabilities. The American version screenplay by Mark Rizzo amps up the Marcus’ character careerism and adds an enhanced romantic subplot featuring Kaitlin Olson.
It’s all pleasant, inoffensive and hardly groundbreaking . Madison Tevlin as the brassy Cosentino, the team’s sole female player, and Kevin Iannucci as Johnny, the shower resister are particular standouts. The best that can be said is that it has heart, even though not every thing is a swish or slam dunk.
Champions gets a 3.5 out of 5 or a B+.
Screenplay byMark Rizzo
- Javier Fesser
- David Marqués
- Paul Brooks
- Scott Niemeyer
- Jeremy Plager
C. Kim Miles
Gold Circle EntertainmentDistributed by
- February 27, 2023(AMC Lincoln Square Theatre)
- March 10, 2023(United States)