That this huge, indigestible sports-movie platitude is based on what Hollywood always likes to call a "true story" makes little difference. True, false or fudged, Gang massages and manipulates us with a fervor bordering on shamelessness. A disclaimer in the final credits reads: "Some characters and incidents are fictional." We can just imagine.
Johnson's fictionalized character, Sean Porter, seeks to combine the playbooks of Vince Lombardi, Dirty Harry and Mother Teresa the football coach as tough-love rebel and no-nonsense slavedriver and if the mixture doesn't quite come off, at least Johnson boasts some credentials here, too. Before manufacturing his theatrical feud with Austin, Johnson was a 295-pound defensive end for the University of Miami (where he studied criminal justice) and, before a shoulder injury laid him low, Doug Flutie's teammate in the Canadian Football League.
Frustrated in his work as a youth counselor at hard-nosed Camp Kilpatrick, Porter has the usual suggestion for the warden: "Let's try the impossible." In this context, impossible means slapping together a football team from a collection of belligerent gangbangers, lumbering fat boys and sweetly demented crack dealers. You can hear Coach Porter's uplifting slogans coming a mile away.
The progress of the Mustangs' season holds no surprises: raw and disorganized, they lose game one to a sharp high school team, get over grave doubt and infighting closer loss on their second Saturday, then reel off eight straight wins. Because they've become a family. Because football builds character. And because Coach Porter is a great guy. Gridiron Gang doesn't go so far as to insist that the game transforms these kids into saints some of them, we are told, will trade their Friday night lights back for a Saturday Night Special but Joanou and screenwriter Jeff Maguire are not big on ambiguity. Here we have inspiration, the Charging Double-Leg Spinebuster of football-coach hero stories. If you're not in the mood for that, you can damn well go grab some bench and shut the hell up.