Review of Crooked Arrows

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A Native American lacrosse team makes its way through a prep school league tournament in this 2012 film.
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Crooked Arrows is a family friendly sports movie that tells the story of a scrappy Native American high school lacrosse team facing off against prep school juggernauts while trying to regain a connection to their ancient heritage. I would very much like to heartily recommend this movie. I really would, but I can't, not quite. It tells a familiar story in a new way with great action, and has more pluck than a chicken processing plant, but suffers from flimsy filmmaking that holds it back from being more than a worthwhile misfire.

In the film, Brandon Routh, better known as Superman from that last Superman movie, turns in the blue suit and red cape for an Audi and an ancestry to portray Joe Logan, wayward son of the fictional Sunaquat nation. Slick and maybe a little sleazy, he runs the reservation casino and wants to expand, giving the tribe a modern and profitable makeover in the process. Most of the tribal council is on board, but he faces significant opposition from his father, who is concerned that Joe has lost sight of tradition and doesn't have the tribe's interests at heart. In a split decision, the council gives Joe the go ahead, on the condition that he complete a spirit quest, to be devised by his father.

The senior Logan hands Joe the reigns of the reservation's misfit high school lacrosse team. The group of youngsters have their own problems with loosing sight of their heritage, and as a lacrosse team, can't seem to cradle their way out of a paper bag. Being that lacrosse is an ancient sport originating with the Native Americans, it's the bad kind of ironic that their white prep school competition is wiping the floor with them every week.

Joe reluctantly agrees to coach, and... Well, you know how the rest of the movie plays out. It practically writes itself at this point. Screenwriter Todd Baird must've been trying to get his money's worth from the Sports Movie Hobby Kit he was using, because every trope, every archetype of the genre is on display. Excepting the Native American and lacrosse aspects, you've seen this movie. You've seen the small fry of the team make the pivotal play in the big game of the third act a dozen times. You've seen the self centered team captain grow into his role as a leader a over and over again. You've seen the miraculous training montage, where the misfit team transforms into a disciplined, physically fit unit over a weekend, many, many times.

I have to say though, all of these clichés work just as well this umpteenth time as they ever have. You'll be surprised exactly zero times as the film plays out, but you'll still be having a good time.

The parts of the film not pulled from the Hobby Kit add some much needed freshness. This is the first movie based on lacrosse. Director Steve Rash cast real lacrosse players among the Crooked Arrows and their rivals, and the production enjoyed support from across the sport. As a result, the action and the matches in particular are well put together and feel authentic, without being overburdened with lore.

Speaking of lore, plenty of Native America tradition finds it's expression here. It's not as well integrated into the narrative as it could be, so it feels like it's being laid on a little thick at times, but, still. It adds a welcome depth to the proceedings. These young men aren't just trying to beat the other guys, or even just coming together as a team and growing as people. They're reclaiming a part of their heritage and playing for the glory of their creator. They kinda got Rudy beat there.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention a baffling non sequitur that comes along when the British anarchist punk band Chumbawamba gets a plug in the script, and even gets in on the action when their mid-90s one-hit-wonder radio single Tubthumping is used in the requisite climbing-the-team-rankings montage. The crowd pleasing chorus of, “I get knocked down, but I get up again... You're never going to keep me down,” works quite well for a high school sports movie. The lines about all night binge drinking however are omitted.

Unfortunately, no 90s pop song, not matter how insidiously catchy, can mask the unpolished quality of the film. Throughout the run time, line deliveries are stilted, emotional beats land awkwardly or seem to come out of nowhere, and camera angles feel off, as if the camera set up was rushed. There's nothing that makes the movie unwatchable, but the viewer is reminded from time to time that from an execution standpoint, they're not watching Hoosiers, or even Varsity Blues.

So, regarding the ultimate question, “Is Crooked Arrows worth it?”, the answer is a resounding “Yeah. More or less.” On the one hand, while it fills out a winning formula, it's not the best film you'll see this year. It's not even the best film you'll see this month. On the other hand, there is literally no other film like it. As far as I'm concerned, that alone is worth the price of admission. So the next time you need your fix for a scrappy underdog sports team makes good story, leave Miracle on the shelf and give Crooked Arrows a go instead.

I mean, the worst that can happen is that Chumbawamba song gets stuck in your head.

Crooked Arrows is now playing in select cities and premiers nationwide June 1st.