Odessa, TX – The backdrop of Texas High School Football donates yet another “based on a true story” to the silver screen. The Abilene Black-and-Gold takes center stage in the latest Hollywood release.
“Under the Stadium Lights” is a well-intended tribute to the Texas 2009 high school football champion team but is bumpy with a sluggish narrative. Taking pages from a well-worn playbook, the movie’s dialogue is jagged and unpolished leaving the tone more preachy and short of dramatic.
While the movie will be enjoyed by followers of Abilene High, it just misses the mark for those outside that circle. Strangely enough, the film is based on the book ‘Brother’s Keeper’ by West Texas legendary sportswriter Al Pickett. He has a cameo role in the movie as game announcer.
Milo Gibson (son of actor/director Mel Gibson) plays Chad Mitchell, who was a cop, pastor, and team chaplain for the Abilene Eagles. The movie omits any on-the-job scene of him as a police officer. “Under the Stadium Lights” depicts what Mitchell did to try to inspire and support the team. He tells the team that everything depends on “faith, family, and football” and that they are their brother’s keeper.
The role of head coach Steve Warren is played by Glenn Morshower. Better known for his roles in the ’24’ and ‘Friday Night Lights’ TV series, Morshower also had a reoccurring role in the Transformers movies. His most memorable line delivered in the movie gives a vision why he thinks that trucks have bigger windshields than rear view mirrors – to keep people focused on the present and not the past. “If we keep our thoughts on the windshield of life, we’re going to do just fine.” Eddie George nabbed a part as Ronnell Sims Sr, and Laurence Fishburne steps as a surrogate father figure.
The back story of FNL’s Boobie Miles has been replaced by the trials and tribulations of Ronnell (quarterback) and Herschel (running back) Sims. The cousins were gifted and talented athletes in real life, but short of being detailed in the movie. The script gets some credit for skipping the usual underdog movie scenes with very little time spent on training montages or locker room pep talks. And yet, the overall package pivots on the notion that the Eagles were somehow shamed by a Bi-District loss in the 2008 state playoffs.
Many Permian supporters will probably see a parallel of what a sequel ‘Friday Night Lights’ movie might have looked like by following the 1989 Panthers. After losing in the state semifinals in 1988, the Panthers recorded a 16-0 perfect season the following year, which included a State Champion title and recipients of ESPN’s National Champion tag.
Director Todd Randall opted for a raw and almost documentary style approach, while the cinematography and editing consist largely from a patchwork script of principle actor scenes and archived game footage. The film does make a decent effort at exposing the pressures put on the teenage players and the challenges of maintaining teamwork goals; however, “Under the Stadium Lights” seemingly ends up being a junior varsity attempt that not only fails to make it into the endzone, but fumbles multiple times in the ball game.
The “Brother’s Keep” book by Pickett was a good read and worth checking out. “Under the Stadium Lights” falls well short of a ‘Remember the Titans’, ‘Rudy’, ‘Varsity Blues’, or even a ‘Friday Night Lights 2.1’. And to think this was the final version of a movie set to release back in 2019 before several edits and revisions.
Peter Berg 21, Todd Randall 6
The movie is now available for streaming on Goggle Play, Vudu, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime for five to six bucks. There’s also the option to wait for the possible release of yet another Permian Basin team that made their mark. Coach John Parchman and his threepeat (1998, 1999, and 2000) State Champion Rebels would certainly qualify to be the next in line.
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