By Michael Koresky
Dir. Ryan Little, U.S., Crane Movie Company
Ryan Littleâ€™s Forever Strong is a friendly, heaping helping of rugby pornâ€”in senses both erotic and non. Seemingly cast top to bottom with holdovers from Flaunt photo-spreads and David DeCoteau flicks (in fact, fans of DeCoteauâ€™s boxer-brief brand of cheapo-homo horror will recognize the filmâ€™s lead, Sean Faris, from his debut in DeCoteauâ€™s Blockbuster Video fave The Brotherhood 2: Young Warlocks), Forever Strong is a charming enough paean to muscle shirts, athletic shorts, and Farisâ€™s beauty mark. Yet what really gets its tent rising is the sport itself, which the film nearly breaks a blood vessel trying to recoup as the pastime of choice for rugged young American men. Dare you cross one of Forever Strongâ€™s rugby enthusiasts and theyâ€™ll unleash a verbal tirade: â€śActually Americans ripped off rugby, then added sissy pads and helmets,â€ť Farisâ€™s Rick Penning angrily corrects a bunch of his fellow inmates at the facility heâ€™s sent to after his second DUI conviction. And later, the filmâ€™s token friendly (white) Rasta dude happily instructs a tyke on the side of the road: â€śSoccer is for kids. Football is for wussies. Rugby is for men.â€ť
Littleâ€™s got an arsenal of postâ€“Friday Night Lights techniques to hammer home the message: This ainâ€™t your nineteenth-century fopâ€™s â€śfute ball.â€ť As the opening theme song blares with all the power of a Transformers: the Movie anthem, â€śAre you ready . . . or not?!â€ť Hell, yeah, dude, weâ€™re ready: for that unholy mix of slow-motion and slowed-down frame rates that have overtaken action filmmaking; for those nattering little surveillance zooms that intimate some sort of documentary realism for no discernible reason; for rock dirges blaring on the soundtrack; for crazily overbaked low angles of balls sailing into the air and players thudding to the ground; for troubled teen Rick to spit in the face of his big, black opponent (later dubbed a â€śyetiâ€ť by some of Rickâ€™s teammates); for coach Gary Cole to shout â€śGet in there!â€ť with unmistakable conviction; for Gossip Girl star Penn Badgleyâ€™s wildly misguided tuft of manicured chin hair.
And hell, yeah, dude, some of us are also ready for Farisâ€™s unceasingly eye-catching wardrobe of this fallâ€™s line of skimpy sportswear, lit like Grace Kellyâ€™s nightgowns; gratuitous scenes of high schoolers (played by mid- to late-twentysomethings all) lounging poolside in swim trunks; for an almost complete disinterest in the female sexâ€”Rickâ€™s first girlfriend is unceremoniously catapulted into a wire fence thanks to his drunk-driving negligence, and a later, pouty-faced love interest, Emily (Arielle Kebbel), is hardly ever shown away from the bleachers, cheering Rick on. This is guy territory, as evidenced not only by the strictly male environments of Rickâ€™s rugby team and juvenile detention lockdown, but also a subplot involving an intensely conflicted history between Rickâ€™s dad/coach (Neal McDonough) and Gary Coleâ€™s rival school coach, Larry. After Rick is allowed to leave his prison temporarily to play for Larryâ€™s morally righteous band of rugby misfits and learns to go on the straight and narrow thanks to Larryâ€™s more nurturing paternal presence and a philosophy of sportsmanship that makes room for reading to sick children and chanting in Maori (but, alas, no drugs, alcohol, cheating, lying, or promiscuity), he ends up playing on the opposing team from his own father.
Thoroughly resolvable issues ensue, played in appealingly by-the-book fashion by actors who have no delusions of grandeur. Faris, last seen in this yearâ€™s similarly titled Never Back Down, is ever the game superficial heartthrob (he flips competently between anger and â€śaw-shucksâ€ť naivetĂ©), and Cole, as always, manages to fully invest himself without ever seeming like heâ€™s taking the work even remotely seriously. Every genre plot point may fall in place with asinine precision, but Iâ€™ll still take this glorified public service announcement over garbage from self-styled indie provocata-turds like Alan Ball and Neil Labute. Would you rather watch Towelheadâ€™s close-up of a thirteen-year-oldâ€™s blood-stained panties, or Forever Strongâ€™s adoring peek at Sean Faris doing sweaty, shirtless sit-ups? Moviegoers, pick your poison.