What’d the ol’ball coach tell us? All the ol’ball coaches?
“Play through the whistle,” he’d say. “Play through ‘The Last Whistle.’”
“The Last Whistle” is a lukewarm Texas melodrama that lets your parse that phrase and ethos. Exert yourself to the maximum, even past the point where the referee has blown the play dead. “Leave it all on the field.”
When the weather’s hot, that athletic bromide takes on sinister tones.
“Last Whistle” is about a veteran Texas high school football coach pushing his boys to the limit in his effort to achieve that undefeated season.
“I can feel it,” Coach Vic (Brad Leland) growls. And an instant later, his real motivation rears its head.
“Think I’ll get that offer?” he asks his assistant (Eric Nelson).
Coach Vic is awfully long in the tooth to be thinking about making that big NCAA leap. But there’s a whole lot “FOOTball” “The Last Whistle” throws at us that beggars belief.
Start with the movie’s half-speed version of on-field play, stripping the game of its velocity and violence, guys in the cleanest (and dullest designed) uniforms ever seen in the fourth quarter on natural grass.
That’s why most of “Last Whistle” is about Coach Vic’s struggles off the field. He’s got a rich kid (Tyler Perez) who thinks his big-donor daddy will arm-twist him some more playing time.
Star running back Benny (Fred Tolliver Jr.) is thinking about college, a kid whose mother (Deanne Lauvin) isn’t crazy about him wasting time on sports when he should be focusing on academics and the future they can give him.
The community lionizes him, but that’s because he’s winning. He lives alone, having run his wife off and estranged himself from his daughter. Hitting the local bar is his only means of unwinding, as he is feeling the heat from his might-be-my-replacement assistant.
When the rich kid peer-pressures Benny and a few others to dog it, showing up for practice, Coach thunders for “eleven GASSERS,” one brutal round of windsprints for every minute this quartet of slackers made everyone else wait. The assistant thinks that’s a bit much.
“Ah don’t CARE what you think!”
That puts a kid in an ambulance.
“Is he gonna be OK?” one player wonders as that ambulance departs.
“I don’t think so. Didn’t even turn the lights on.”
Football deaths are way down from their peak, we learn (as does Coach Vic) as the school board and the town rile themselves up to run the old coach off. The local press is all over him, as as his fellow barflies. His reaction is off-the-charts tone-deaf.
I mean, he’s got the season and his possible college job to think about!
The trial that comes when the mother of the dead player sues is laughably intimate, convenient and low-stakes.
And the story resolves itself in a way guaranteed to deliver eye-rolls.
Brad Leland plays the mayor of Nome in the new “Great Alaskan Race” feature film, a career character actor who does his best in this rare leading man role. He makes us feel neither pity nor revulsion for this callous man who has made his sport and his job his life.
Lauvin has the best scenes and best lines, a smart mother who sizes up the coach’s influence and promises to Benny with “So, you trust him? Everyone I ever worked with is a liar UNTIL they put it on paper!”
The world doesn’t need another movie or TV series about the Texas football obsession (Leland was in “Friday Night Lights,” too). It surely doesn’t need another African American athlete claiming “I ain’t smart like my mama” in search of a way out via athletics.
Pat the indie film production team on the back for trying, but even the varios faith-based films centered on high school football look more polished and realistic than this.
Whatever the ol’ball coaches say, it’s what Texans like to say that matters in movies of his genre.
“Go big, or go home.”
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and language
Cast: Brad Leland, Deanne Lauvin, Fred Tolliver Jr., Tyler Perez
Credits: Written and directed by Rob Smat. A Vertical Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:28