When laconic rapper-turned-actor Snoop Dogg is called on to appear in a film, he more often than not plays himself or a version thereof – and so it goes again in this salty but ultimately very wholesome sports movie. There’s even a sly parallel between the character Snoop plays and the efforts he’s made in the real world setting up an American football league for kids. Yes, his thespian range may be pretty limited, but there’s no denying Snoop has a palpable onscreen charisma and a good sense of comic timing that director Charles Stone III skilfully directs around.
The plot, as old as time – or at least as old as vintage 1976 comedy The Bad New Bears – posits Snoop as JJ, a once-feted professional football player best known for his mildly disappointing career despite early promise and lack of loyalty to anyone one team. Struggling to make a comeback as a commentator, JJ hits rock bottom when his reckless driving causes an accident and a judge he knew from the old days sentences him to 30 days of community service, picking up dog poop in a city park in Long Beach, California. There, JJ notices Cerise (Tika Sumpter), an ex-girlfriend from high school who is now a hard-working single mom trying to support her pre-pubescent son Tre (Jonigan Booth, a find) while he plays ball with a team that is, of course, bottom of the league. Before you can remember how to spell Walter Matthau, JJ has signed on to coach the team, aiming to turn these “Underdoggs” into a viral success story he can hype on his own podcast and thus parlay into better career prospects for himself.
Lo and behold, the subsequent events pan out pretty much as one would expect, but there are few admirable plays that upend expectations. The young cast, given license to swear like navvies are clearly having a blast, and it’s nice to see the general sausage fest broken up with a young female character (Kyla Davila) who plays a crucial role in the team’s eventual success. Comedian Andrew Schultz is another bright spot as JJ’s nemesis, the coach for the Underdoggs’ biggest rivals. Given how different his character’s humour is, I wouldn’t be surprised if he improvised most of his material, like the bit where he gets the team to thank God for the invention of plastic helmets hard enough to give rival players brain damage.
The Underdoggs is available now on Prime Video.