Sean Payton’s abrupt “retirement” from the head coaching job of the New Orleans Saints this week can only mean one thing. Somebody let him screen “Home Team,” the Happy Madison (Adam Sandler’s production company) comedy about how Payton spent that year when he was suspended from coaching for Bountygate.
The shame of that scandal, paying players to “target,” hit and injure opponents, didn’t amount to much. But this “coach my son’s pee wee team” kiddie movie? Being portrayed by Kevin James? He may never live that down.
A fictionalized account of Payton’s real-life time spent coaching his son’s 6th grade team, the film gives us a “winning is everything” coach who has to relearn “this game is supposed to be fun” from a bunch of pre-CTE 12 year-olds.
“Home Team” sticks strictly to formula, with the usual Happy Madison touches. Except for the PG rating, I mean.
There’s a leering sexual come-on and a “barfed their way to victory” vomit fest. There are Sandler family members in the cast, Sandler’s old “SNL” mate Rob Schneider shows up, and the Sand-man’s favorite sportscaster, Dan Patrick takes on another cameo, this time as himself.
I think I laughed once.
This NFL-approved picture whitewashes the scandal even as it pays lip service to a version of Payton who long-ignored his son and talks about “accountability” but doesn’t live up to it. Yes, it’s fictionalized, and yes, the movie skirts the very issue the screenplay hints it might play up. Gutless.
Kevin James plays Payton, on the sidelines for the joyous post-Katrina Super Bowl victory in 2010, and then suspended as the scandal breaks a couple of years later. There’s good footage of the TV news and ESPN coverage of that dangerous and despicable debacle, just not that much of it.
Next thing we know, Payton’s in Argyle, Texas, taking way too long to check into the nicest hotel in town, trying to get back in his 12 year-old son’s life. Connor (Tait Blum) may not want anything to do with him. But his mo,. Sean’s ex (Jackie Sandler) just says “give it time” and the like. Her new husband, man-bunned vegan Jamie (Schneider) is OK with it, too.
And there’s a possible window into Connor’s life, his godawful football team, the Warriors. Coach Troy (Taylor Lautner) is in over his head, and boozing Coach Bizone (Gary Valentine) is no help.
“These kids are 12 YEARS OLD! What are we teaching them about violence and conflict resolution?”
It isn’t long before Payton’s instant-reads of the Warriors’ shortcomings, passed on to Coach Troy via sign language (at first), leads to the Saints’ coach’s jumping in and shaking things up, creating a playbook “even my Dad can’t understand,” over-working the boys and generally not picking up on the fact they’re kids and that, as Coach Troy reminds him, the object isn’t to “get them a trip to the emergency room.”
James plays this pretty straight, which is unfortunate but understandable. He’s playing a real person, and the script doesn’t really give him anything funny to say or play. Payton is basically all-business/all visor here.
The kids are a motley crew of bumbler, an over-eater, a distracted, lovesick kicker and the “contact” avoiding meek lineman who hasn’t figured out “This is TEXAS,” where football, Tex-Mex and incompetent governance are in the DNA.
The cute touches — the plays have to be reduced to picnic-table condiments-at-the-taco-truck simplicity, “two limes, one hot sauce” formation — are few and far between.
The “redemption” message is printed in BOLD FACE, but not borne out by the plot.
And it doesn’t so much end as just peter out. Much like this review.
But as I’ve already said, “I laughed once.”
Cast: Kevin James, Taylor Lautner, Jackie Sandler, Ashley D. Kelley, Rob Schneider, Tait Blum, Isaiah Mustafa, Manny Magnus, Sunny Sandler and Dan Patrick
Credits: Directed by Charles Kinnane and Daniel Kinnane, scripted by Christ Titone and Keith Blum. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:39