Goal! The Dream Begins
Directed by: Danny Cannon
Written by: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Mike Jefferies, and Adrian Butchart
Starring: Kuno Becker, Alessandro Nivola, Stephen Dillane, Anna Friel, Marcel Iures
At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (language, sexual situations, thematic material)
''Goal! The Dream Begins" is a soccer movie for the young, the unsophisticated, and players who head the ball too often. Handsomely shot and with a likable lead in Kuno Becker, it also suffers from a script so outrageously generic you could buy it at Costco.
The filmmakers are attempting to reach the sport's polyglot global audience -- the story concerns a Hispanic youth from Los Angeles who tries to make it on England's Newcastle United team -- but in appealing to ''futbol" fans from Brazil to Germany, ''Goal!" turns into cinematic Esperanto.
Becker plays a young Mexican immigrant named Santiago Munez -- in the opening scene, we've seen him lose his soccer ball during a nighttime illegal border crossing -- who mows the lawns of Beverly Hills with his glowering father (Tony Plana) and plays pickup soccer on the weekends. He's spotted on the pitch by Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane), a visiting retired Newcastle player who makes a call to the team's head coach, Erik Dornhelm (Marcel Iures). If the kid can get to England, will Dornhelm try him out?
First Santiago has to get past his dad. ''Keep your feet on the ground and not your head in the sky," cautions Pop, who speaks in boilerplate and disapproves of everything except gardening for the Man. With some help from his kindly grandmother (Miriam Colon), though, Santiago is able to raise airfare and lands in Newcastle, ready to take on the Geordies.
At this point, ''Goal!" switches gears and threatens to become one long training montage. Santiago keeps screwing up -- he's not used to playing in the rain and mud that count as good weather in England, and the asthma he keeps secret from Dornhelm and the fetching team nurse (Anna Friel) gets in his way when a meanie fellow player steps on his inhaler. He's on the team; he's off the team; he's back on through the good graces of Newcastle star player Gavin Harris (Alessandro Nivola).
''People keep coming to your defense," notes the coach, and, truth to tell, we're as puzzled as he is. Eventually, Santiago fights his way to the front of the reserve squad and then gets a crack at the A team. With stardom comes moral choice: Should he stay out partying with Gavin or remain true to that nurse? Should he lead with his head, his feet, or his heart?
Because it runs on tracks laid down by hundreds of sports movies before it, ''Goal!" renders such questions moot. Cruelly, it doesn't even feature that much soccer, even if Euro-stars like David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane pop up in off-field cameos. The climactic games are edited for speed and impact rather than clarity, and while the script pays lip service to teamwork, the emphasis is mostly on individual triumph.
Santiago's talent is even strong enough to warp space and time: How else to explain that his family can watch the games on TV in Los Angeles at the same hour of the day they're unfolding in England?
There's a more interesting movie here that remains unmade. Originally, fine director Michael Winterbottom (''Tristram Shandy," ''9 Songs") was signed and Diego Luna (''Y Tu Mama Tambien") was going to play Santiago. But FIFA, the sport's organizing body, demanded script approval, Winterbottom left the project, and Danny Cannon (''Judge Dredd") has made a film with all the depth of a poster, probably what FIFA wanted all along. ''Goal 2," in which Santiago joins the Real Madrid team, has been shot and will be released in the United States in September; ''Goal 3" is in the works. The genuine drama will be in June. It's called the World Cup.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.