After the relative high of Star Trek, I have found some of this season’s new movies to be rather flat and disappointing. Perhaps it’s the curse of the sequel, beginning with the leaden Night at the Museum 2, which retreads virtually the entire material of its prequel (including many of its gags!) presumably in an effort to squeeze more money out of the franchise. I saw no point to any of it, which was made worse by the fact I quite enjoyed the first instalment. Then, as now, Steve Coogan was the funniest thing on display but he isn’t in this one as much. Mine wife is a big Dan Brown fan, and as such we simply had to see Angels and Demons. I went in with low expectations, particularly given some of the reviews, and had a ball, thanks mainly to the way the film hurtles along at breakneck speed and made me forget to worry too much about what was happening because, oh look, here’s another murdered priest. It was terrible, of course, yet not without merit, and surely the Tourist Board of Rome will be able to set up some marketing gimmick with all those statues that just happen to be pointing at things and in the world of the movie that means a clue.
If I’m being overly kind to ‘good crap’ like Angels and Demons, then worse is to come. Nothing prepared me for the unremitting awfulness of Goal III. Well, that isn’t entirely true. Its ’straight to DVD’ status suggested I wasn’t in for a treat, nor the fact Amazon had already slashed the price considerably one week into its release. The one-star reviews on IMDb weren’t exactly encouraging, and I guess it was only ‘brand loyalty’ that persuaded me to order a copy. After all, I had seen the first two chapters at the cinema and a lingering hope that it might just be watchable spurred me to part with my cash. Big mistake.
The first chapter was no one’s idea of a masterpiece, but it was glossily produced and weaved its yarn about a young Mexican who lands a trial at Newcastle United with some style. A lot rested on the shoulders of Kuno Becker, in the lead role of Santiago ‘Santi’ Munez. Whereas many critics were content to slate him both for his apparent lack of football talent and ‘rabbit caught in headlights’ acting style, he brought enough boyish charm to the part to win most viewers over. The film was helped by the participation of various football people, including the Newcastle first team, David Beckham and then England manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, all of whom giving the project a degree of credibility, indeed Goal! was made with the blessing and participation of FIFA, who approved of its core message that anyone can indeed make it to the top, providing they have the talent and dedication. I imagine this sentiment will cock the eyebrows of most Chairmen outside the Premiership’s top four clubs, but that’s the movie’s fantasy for you.
Goal 2 showed signs of an already ailing franchise. Slipped quietly onto screens in the UK, its premise - Santi is transferred to Real Madrid and contests the Champions League - held little of the charm of its predecessor. The story of WAGs and rich footballers who learn that money isn’t everything gave nothing for the ordinary viewer to identify with, and its best parts concerned the struggles of Santi’s teammate, Gavin (Alessandro Nivola), who was coping with the onset of retirement. Less surefooted was Anna Friel, our hero’s girlfriend who ended the film pregnant and alone, and a subplot that had Santi scouring the backstreets of Madrid for his mother seemed to be shoehorned in for the sake of a cheap human interest story.
Both movies ran along the same faultline, one that proved a fatal flaw, as it has for any football-based fiction. It is that as dramatic as the Goal trilogy might have purported to be, it could never match the unscripted, arbitrary and occasionally unfair highs and lows that come with following soccer in real life. Several days before watching Goal III, I caught Brazil taking on Egypt in the Confederations Cup, a match that sounded like a procession for the former yet ended in a squeaky bum 4-3 win, the decider scored with minutes left on the clock. The game was a rollercoaster, a saga of your football minnow standing up to one of the best sides in the world and almost claiming a result. With stuff like this taking place all the time in football, there’s very little left for fiction to cling on to, and I think it speaks volumes that the most successful soccer novel critically by some distance - David Peace’s The Damned United - is an imagining of real life events that bastardises most of its characters and upset the Clough family with its one note sketching of Brian as a boorish, boozy big head.
None of the above forgives Goal III. If the downturn in quality between the first two instalments is noticeable, here it’s in free fall. Every element of the production points towards a film that has been rushed out on the cheap, released because the series was supposed to contain three parts yet nobody is very interested in seeing it through to its conclusion. The whole affair plays like a rejected script from the Sky One series, Dream Team. Yes, it really is that bad.
Let’s start with the plot. Though ostensibly still following the fortunes of Santi - who features prominently on the DVD cover - Goal III is barely about him at all. He’s there, but his role now is to interact with the two English footballers who are attempting to stake their places in Sven’s World Cup squad for Germany (yep, we’re stuck in 2006) whilst igniting their love lives. One falls for an actress he meets on the set of a movie production and, erm, that’s about it. The other, who’s a bugger for the bottle, finds out he has a young child via some lost sweetheart who still appears to be waiting for him to reappear in her life years after he left her with one in the oven. And that’s about it. Friel clearly had enough sense to steer clear of this turkey. Her character is dismissed in a passing conversation, as though that’s all she deserves, though having watched Goal III it’s for certain she had the last laugh.
Any actual football appears rarely, and there’s a good reason for that. The first two Goal films featured the actors mixing with real-life stars of the game, lending the action a degree of realism, but that’s all over with now. Goal III is allowed to use footage from England’s internationals during the World Cup finals yet the actors either appear ‘away’ from the players, or are superimposed against a background of supporters and done so very obviously. The effect of this is horrible and belongs in a pre-CGI era of naff cheapness, looking like something you might have once played on the Commodore 64.
Worse still is the fact that these budgetary limits mean there’s no tinkering with the conclusion of England’s World Cup. Anyone who knows when England were knocked out - and who by - will find no change in the narrative here because the producers can’t afford to shoot any additional footage. The tournament ends on the fluffed penalty of one of the actors and, er, that’s it once again. And what was the point of any of that? Clearly, by this stage in the franchise the soccer is no longer the point, or even a significant facet, of the story. It’s incidental, inserted by obligation to the film’s title but nothing more than a footnote of the sub-soap plotting.
I don’t suppose that would matter if Goal III was suspenseful, gripping or satisfying on any dramatic level, but it isn’t. In fact it’s boring, which is something you could never accuse the previous episodes of being, for all their other faults. The actors aren’t good enough to make you care for them, being the cheeky lads mag stereotypes who seem to have walked straight out of a Wkd commercial, neither does the script give them any depth. Becker pops up sporadically to remind you this is an official sequel, sporting a ridiculous haircut and now carrying more poundage than in the earlier films. However you choose to look at it, the film is terrible, churned out to squeeze the last possible drop of revenue from the franchise and amazingly making the other lacklustre sequels of the summer look like gems in comparison. In a final insult to its audience, Goal III only features one cameo from a ‘football person,’ and it’s reviled Newcastle owner, Mike Ashley, who tells Nick Moran’s oily agent where to go. Moran has the good grace to spend much of the film looking pretty apologetic about what he’s doing. Ashley actually appears to believe he’s doing a good turn for his own public image, which isn’t the only own goal scored before this sorry mess crawls to a finish.