Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Review - Goal II: Living the Dream

When David Beckham recently signed for American side LA Galaxy, the makers of Goal II: Living the Dream must have had mixed feelings about the move. Sure, Beckham’s increased profile in the US might be good for the picture’s chances of making an impact there, but it does render this second instalment in the football trilogy even more outdated than it already was. Goal II sees Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) making the move from the Premiership to La Liga, swapping the black and white of Newcastle for the all-white strip of Real Madrid; but along with the US-bound Beckham, the film sees Santiago lining up next to such players as Thomas Gravesen (now at Celtic), Julio Baptista (Arsenal), Jonathan Woodgate (Middlesbrough) and the great Zinedine Zidane (famously retired).

Such are the pitfalls of trying to make a feature film in the fast-moving football world, but that hiccup is the least of
Goal II’s problems. I rather enjoyed the original film, which saw young Mexican Santiago making the move to Newcastle after being spotted showing his skills in an LA park. The film’s fairytale narrative followed a traditional trajectory, with our hero overcoming every obstacle through sheer hard work and determination. It was nothing new, but the film did deserved some credit for its fine recreation of match day action - with the actors skilfully spliced into real-life footage and a number of players making cameos - and the general air of authenticity which Newcastle’s cooperation on the picture enabled.

Goal made little impact on its release in 2005, but part two had gone into the works as soon as production on the first film had finished, so here it is whether people are interested or not. The film opens with a display of skill that won’t be matched in the whole picture, with the opening credits running over footage of Ronaldinho’s single-handed destruction of Real Madrid in 2005 (he famously became the first Barcelona player to earn a standing ovation at the Bernabéu since Maradona 20 years previously). Clearly, things are not going well for Real, and one player under particular scrutiny is Gavin Harris (Alessandro Nivola), the new signing from Newcastle who has struggled to live up to his transfer fee.

Real Madrid manager Rudi Van Der Merwe (a blatantly uninterested Rutger Hauer) thinks the solution to Harris’ problems might be the purchase of his former team-mate Santiago Munez, and he begins to make arrangements for a swap deal involving Michael Owen. It’s a dream move for Santiago, but he soon finds the pressures of playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs are very different to those he faced in Newcastle. His fiancée Roz (a decent Anna Friel) struggles to settle, causing tensions to rise between the pair, and Santiago starts to get sucked into the playboy lifestyle enjoyed by the likes of Gavin Harris. He has problems on the pitch too, finding himself restricted to the bench and struggling to make a mark at his new club.

In other words, it’s nothing new, with only a sunnier
milieu marking the difference between this Goal and the original. Of course, we shouldn’t have expected Goal II to break any new ground, but this sequel feels like a serious regression from the (admittedly quite low) standard set by Danny Cannon’s film. The director this time out is Jaume Collet-Serra, the young Frenchman whose previous effort was the much derided horror remake House of Wax, but he doesn’t bring much to the film aside from a lot of flashy visuals and choppy editing. Few of Collet-Serra’s aesthetic choices are pleasing; the overuse of CGI in the football sections - with balls defying the laws of physics as they swerve into the net - makes the in-game action feel cartoonish, while a snowstorm during a European match in Norway just looks ugly, and there’s a bizarrely incongruous car chase sequence which comes out of nowhere halfway through the picture.

Goal II does make an attempt to give Santiago’s story some sort of emotional resonance in this film by introducing his long-lost mother (Elizabeth Peña), and the brother he never knew he had (Alfredo Rodríguez), but this strand of the narrative barely rises to the level of a Soap Opera. Kuno Becker’s mediocre performance also scuppers the film’s chances of developing any depth; he just about got away with his limited range in the first film, but here his handful of scowls, smiles and confused expressions quickly palls, particularly when Santiago is supposed to be going through such a difficult and transformative time. Thankfully Alessandro Nivola lightens the mood a little by reprising the character of Gavin Harris to winning effect. Nivola’s cocky, dopey star was the best thing about the first film, and he again manages to eke a couple of laughs out of the generally barren screenplay. In this picture Harris is worried about the ageing process, and the thought that he might lose his place in England’s World Cup squad to younger legs, and Nivola’s relaxed performance makes him a far more rounded and appealing character than Becker can manage with far greater screen time.

Aside from Nivola, there isn’t much fun to be had with
Goal II, although the star-spotting is always enjoyable. Few of the Madrid players are given much to do other than sitting around in the background of scenes, but Thomas Gravesen does engage in a nice bit of towel-swiping comedy, and the likes of Míchel Salgado and Iker Casillas handle their brief appearances with the minimum of fuss. The weirdest cameo of the lot comes from Steve McManaman, though. The Associate Producer pops up as Rutger Hauer’s assistant, and he seems to be lurking in the background of almost every single scene, finally excelling himself with some great “leave it, he’s not worth it!” action when breaking up a fight. And what of Mr Beckham himself? Well, after delivering his one line in Goal with all the confidence of a man who has never spoken English before, he has found himself back among the subs this time, only making wordless appearances. Never mind, David; just think of all those acting classes you can take in LA.

Goal II ends, as you’d expect, with a Real Madrid victory secured by a last-minute stunner (shamefully bastardising one of Arsenal’s great European performances in the process), but there’s no real sense of joy in this disappointing retread. For all its flaws, the first Goal had a degree of charm, plausibility and a lightness of touch which is completely missing from Collet-Serra’s glossier, emptier movie. Instead of advancing on the things Goal did well, the sequel just expands on the things it did poorly, and it’s a major backwards step for the series. Of course, we still have Goal III to consider - the action will be taking place at the World Cup, with Santiago and Gavin competing on the world’s biggest stage - but it’s hard to hold out much hope for the film after this instalment. “To be continued” the film promises as the credits roll - the question is, will anybody care?