Grid Film Calls the Obvious Plays


Like every other film about the improbable underdog, Turner Network Television's football movie Second String
is almost entirely predictable.

All the elements are there: the bunch of loveable losers, the former all-star, the unlikely hero, trick plays that baffle the opponents and the stubborn coach. But unlike The Bad News Bears
or the Pittsburgh Pisces (of The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh), this group of losers is not a second-rate main squad miraculously transformed, but the clumsy backup unit to an all-star squad expected to win it all.

After the Buffalo Bills beat the New York Giants on a last-second touchdown to advance to the playoffs, Coach Dichter (Jon Voight) orders his general manager to sign a quarterback that he can use to save star Doug Flutie from sustaining any freak injuries in practice. Voight does an excellent job as the hard-headed coach and is one of Second String's bright spots.

The GM signs washed-up-pro-turned-insurance-salesman Dan Heller (Gil Bellows) — much to the chagrin of Dichter. It is apparent from the start that there is bad blood between Heller and the coach, but viewers are kept in the dark about the reason for their hostility until halfway through the movie. Of course, bad things must happen to the starting offensive squad, so Flutie, his regular backup quarterback, and the rest of the starters contract a rare form of food poisoning from bad shellfish that conveniently will keep them sidelined until just after the Super Bowl.

In steps Heller. After an embarrassing first outing, he whips the second-stringers into shape and rallies them to victory, only to be replaced by high-priced free agent Tommy Baker before the big game.

Bellows is unconvincing as a football player and plays it a bit too cool in the first half of the movie. Even after he rediscovers his passion for the game, his outbursts seem a little too contrived.

Second String's predictability pulls it down just short of the goal line. Even the very slight twist at the end misses wide right.

Second String
debuts Wed., Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. EST on TNT.