Arriving just in time for the World Cup is Goal!, a savvy marketing scheme disguised as a movie. Though stateside enthusiasm for the world’s biggest sports spectacle is lukewarm at best, the hype machine is cranking full-blast in a continuing effort to turn us stubborn Yanks on to soccer — and what better tool than a rah-rah sports flick?
The first entry in a trilogy, with the second already completed and the third in production, Goal! has the soapy residue of a daytime drama, like an extremely tepid episode of the BBC’s Footballers’ Wives. Young Santiago Munez and his family leave Mexico to sneak across the U.S. border with the INS hot on their heels (though our young hero almost turns back to fetch his soccer ball — how touching). Ten years later, he’s an intense young hunk (played by Mexican TV actor Kuno Becker — after Gael García Bernal dropped out) in Los Angeles, scoring goals in park leagues and pick-up games when not busy landscaping with his overbearing father (Tony Plana). Fate steps in when Glen (Stephen Dillane), a former English big leaguer on holiday, happens to spot Santiago and is blown away by his untapped talent. Glen arranges for Santiago to try out with Britain’s Newcastle United squad.
Naturally, he must cope with a host of obstacles and culture shock, from hostile local players to an indifferent manager to endless dreary rain to, worst of all, the nasty blood pudding on his breakfast plate. Throw in a love story with a pretty team nurse (Anna Friel) and a rivalry-turned-friendship with bad boy superstar Gavin Harris (Alessandro Nivola), and you have all the elements of an old-fashioned melodrama.
Though the cheesy storyline is beyond predictable, the game scenes are fun, fast-paced and authentic, using real locations and teams. There are numerous cameos by such real-life soccer players as Newcastle hero and former England national captain Alan Shearer, whose acting skills seem to be limited to carefully arching his eyebrows. Even less convincing is megastar David Beckham, who delivers a ball much more comfortably than a single line of dialogue.
While dedicated footie fans will surely get a kick out of it, the film is unlikely to convert many Americans who prefer their football with helmets and cheerleaders.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].