With The Boy off sick, and me caring for him, I decided to take advantage of Orange Wednesday and treat him to the local cinemaplex. Our destination was Goal! 2; the time was 12.15, and we shared the theatre with two other people. I think even by the unlofty standards of some of the flicks I’ve been to see, that’s a record low.
By all accounts though, it wasn’t an unusual turnout. G!2 has not made for good box office, much like its predecessor, and as I noted in my DVD Times review of the first instalment, the reasons why are obvious. Apart from the fact that neither film is especially good, I don’t see how a fictional drama about football can possibly replicate the highs and lows of its real life counterpart. Bend it like Beckham is an honourable exception, and in any case, Gurinder Chadha’s movie was about race rather than Pele’s beautiful game. Think of any other football film - Escape to Victory, When Saturday Comes, Hotshot, Best, heck, throw in televised drama and novels while you’re at it - and the quality falls short. And so it should. On Tuesday evening, I watched Lille v Manchester United in the Champions League. An utter dog of a game, until Ryan Giggs scored from a controversial free kick and ninety minutes of tedium threatened to ignite. After witnessing the Lille players walk off the pitch and threaten to abandon the entire match, the tie had its hook, its angle. And that was a real situation - unchoreographed, unrehearsed, and not directed. Fiction can’t possibly hope to meet the spontaneous drama of the real thing.
In G!2’s case, it doesn’t help that the movie is a notch down from part one. The middle instalment within a trilogy, the films tell the story of Santiago Munez, a gifted young footballer who rises from the slums of Los Angeles to eventually play in the World Cup. In Goal! (subtitled ‘The Dream Begins’), we saw Munez move to Newcastle, thanks to the friendly patronage of a passing agent, and score the inevitable winning goal in a match that took the Toon Army into next season’s Champions League. Woody Allen can sleep easy. Despite various pratfalls along the way, Munez was always going to wind up in this position, a star on the rise, largely because it’s the only yarn football films seem to come up with. For all its telegraphed plot, however, Goal! was good fun. Kuno Becker made for a naive and affable lead, and crucially could play a bit. The film - like the rest of the series - was part funded by FIFA itself, giving Danny Cannon and his crew exclusive access to St James Park’s facilities and players. When Munez played in the Premiership, he and several other actors were alongside genuine stars, which lent the match action an authenticity and competence that other dramas have utterly failed to achieve. The liberal use of Britrock, some good jokes and a fine turn from Marcel Iures as Newcastle’s proto-Wenger manager made Goal! a football film that was little more than eye candy, but decent eye candy at that.
The trouble with G!2 (subtitled ‘Living the Dream’ - so what’s part three going to be called? ‘Waving goodybe to the dream?’ ‘Waking up from the dream?’ ‘Dreamer, you’re nothing but a dreamer, but can you put your hands in your head, oh no?’) is that the rags to riches drama of before has ended. Munez is a star by now, and moves to Real Madrid within the first half hour of the film. What follows is the tale of a rich footballer who buys a big house, a Lamborghini, and steadily gets more spoiled and brattish as the two hours’ running time progresses. Who cares about any of that? Munez’s odyssey in G!2 is a little like reading one of those England footballers’ autobiographies that sold very few copies last year. A little like Frank Lampard and (C)Ashley Cole, it’s hard to find any degree of sympathy for someone who clearly has everything. Munez falls out with his fiance, finds his mother, breaks his foot and goes on a Tequila bender with a vampish TV presenter - er, so what? What empathy am I meant to feel with him?
If it’s the case that director, Jaume Collet-Serra, was trying to make a statement about the lot of millionaire footballers, then it doesn’t work. There could be a very good drama about exactly that subject waiting to happen. This isn’t it. For all his riches, we’re still meant to believe that, at heart, Munez is the nice kid who made good, whereas in reality he comes across just like any other pampered sports star. Other points that the film raises aren’t pushed hard enough to make it a suitable exploration of issues within the 21st century game. We get unscrupulous, oily agents, wags, terrible promotional work that make some extra coin for our favourite players, but these are only touched upon. In one telling scene, the Madrid board tell team coach, Rutger Hauer (wasted on the whole), that Munez must start in the next game, despite his misgivings. Again, this raises an interesting point about the power of money in football, and the way it can walk all over the right thing to do, but the moment soon passes and we’re off on some new tangent.
Clearly, the makers of G!2 aren’t impressed with Fabio Capello’s changing room revolution at the Bernabeu. ‘The Don’ has sold Ronaldo, snubbed Beckham, and actively tried to end the reign of the glossy yet ultimately destructive Galacticos, but none of that has happened in the movie. Ronaldo, Zidane and especially Beckham are at the heart of the club. Jettisoned foreigners like Thomas Gravesen and Jonathan Woodgate are active first teamers. It’s easy to see why G!2 has done this. Mixing Munez with the big names of last season is good for the story, and you get the impression the film was only green-lighted in the first place to see Goldenballs himself making liberal appearances. Fortunately, Beckham isn’t called on to act, and merely features on the pitch and in the dressing room.
Elsewhere, Anna Friel co-stars as Munez’s put upon fiance, and sadly proves that she is an actor of limited talent. Wayward Geordie accent aside, it’s hard to feel sorry for her as she gets in a tizz over whether to live in the big Newcastle-based mansion, or the even larger pile in Madrid. Far more fun is to be had with teammate, Gavin Harris (Alessandro Nivola). The playboy from Goal! is now an issue-driven, ageing star. At one point, he slaps on the face cream in an attempt to look younger than his advancing years. He also features in a side story where he realises he’s being usurped in the Madrid line-up by Munez, and is determined to do something about it whilst trying to maintain his friendship with the younger player.
If the tale was actually about Harris, it would be probably be an improvement. Nivola can act, for one thing, which gives him an instant advantage over the wooden Becker. This isn’t the case, though, and apart from the usual finely choreographed match action (some of which features a CGI football that isn’t realised well enough to look anything other than some slick computer work) the film is rather empty and soulless. According to the IMDb, Goal! 3 will be directed by Michael Apted, which suggests a hopeful upturn in quality. Otherwise, the trilogy amounts to $90m that is the very definition of money not well spent.