American Underdog

Zachary Levi (center, 13) stars as Kurt Warner in "American Underdog."

“Destiny belongs to the underdogs” is a quote from the core of the new film “American Underdog,” directed by duo Andrew and Jon Erwin and starring Zackary Levi (“Shazam”) and Anna Paquin as Kurt Warner and Brenda Meoni.

It’s a Cinderella story of a man with the dream of being the next Joe Montana who loses his way only to find his way back through the love of a woman, her beliefs and the coaches who see how special he is. This true life story of an MVP Hall-of-Fame-winning quarterback is uplifting and inspiring even with its rather contrived musical score.

Warner’s story is a familiar one, but this one accentuates man’s vulnerable psyche and how others play a vital role in his resiliency and success. It’s a lesson for us all as we attempt to accomplish our own dreams and goals and have the opportunity to help others do the same.

Warner’s rags-to-riches story takes us back in time to his college days, when he shined as a quarterback. The stars of fate weren’t yet aligned, and he found himself hopping from job to job, near poverty level and never drafted. Meeting the woman who later would become his wife, Brenda, and her two children, one of whom is blind, Warner finds new inspiration in life and living. With Brenda’s faith, the two still struggle, but they do it together.

We watch as his dreams are shattered year after year, stocking shelves on the graveyard shift at a grocery store to help makes ends meet. But as luck would have it, he gets an opportunity to play Arena Football coached by Jim Foster (Bruce McGill).

Thinking this could open doors, and it does, many still are slammed shut, some of which he helps close because of his lack of confidence. It isn’t until Warner finds his way to the St. Louis Rams, coached by Dick Vermeil (Dennis Quaid) and Coach Mike Martz (Chance Kelly) that Warner is allowed to become the shining star he was destined to be.

The story, as many of you know, has a brilliant ending, and as newscasters and coaches actually said, “A better script couldn’t have been written,” screenwriters took this story and transformed it into a heartfelt drama filled with love and a message.

Casting actors who appear to be doppelgängers of the real life characters (be sure to stay all the way through the credits to see actual footage and photos), Levi easily embodies the star football player with a heart. His easy-going demeanor and ability to allow us into his mind and feel his emotions is exactly what this role requires.

Levi is immediately likable, and we are connected, the very essence of what the film relies on to carry it. Paquin’s spunk and spark ignite the story as her character creates the stress and tension of real life. Protecting her children (and herself from more heartache) we feel this push and pull between the two making it believable scenario.

“American Underdog” reminds us of the importance of believing in yourself, finding the courage to do so and to surround ourselves with those who lift us when we cannot walk alone. Warner’s story is an inspiring one as he defies the odds, going from a grocery stock “boy” to five years later, winning the Super Bowl as an undrafted player and achieving more accolades than imaginable.

Reel Talk rating: 3 stars

Pamela Powell is a film critic located in Bourbonnais and a member of the CFCA and the CCA and is a Rotten Tomatoes certified critic. Writing reviews for 10 years, Pamela also can be found on WCIA TV in Champaign. She can be contacted at

Film critic

New York native film critic Pamela Powell now resides in Bourbonnais where she has been reviewing big blockbuster films as well as independent gems for the last 10+ years.