The Underdoggs (dir. Charles Stone III)
By: Adam Freed
Snoop Dogg has done well for himself. The once vilified hip hop hot topic has become one of America's sweethearts. It is hard to believe that the same man who once performed “Murder was the Case” now ships cases of wine with Martha Stewart. Credit to Calvin Broadus Jr. for surviving the slings and arrows of a career infamously jump started by Death Row Records and having the wherewithal to morph into a beloved marketing machine. Nary an NFL commercial break goes by without being reminded of Snoop’s marketability, a testament to his broad appeal and high household approval rating. As a native of Long Beach, California, Broadus grew up only 30 miles from the Hollywood Hills, perhaps an unavoidable beacon leading to his eventual step into the world of movies.
Snoop Dogg’s The Underdoggs is an R rated PrimeVideo streamer that despite its raunchy outer shell, desperately seeks to tell a story of heartfelt redemption. That absolution feels most necessary for former NFL star Jaycen Jennings whose egomaniacal life has forced him into isolation. Jennings’ “self made” moniker only lasted as long as his talent in NFL locker rooms and once father time got the best of his career, all that remains of his once undeniable talent is the empty mansion that looms as an obvious metaphor for Jennings’ hollow life. In the wake of an irresponsible driving incident that leads a bruised and broken Jennings to stand before a judge, the antithesis of a role model decides that his path toward legal and career redemption lies in his desire to volunteer as coach of the Long Beach community youth football program. This familiar premise, which The Underdoggs admits to lifting from The Mighty Ducks (1992), betrays its source material in its confounding dedication to earning its R rating. A trail of successful misfit youth sports films already exist and none of them have ever so wantonly attempted to eliminate a youthful audience in this manner. The Bad New Bears (1976) was by no means a squeaky clean film but was wise enough to avoid restriction because films about children playing sports are given life by youthful audiences.
While The Underdoggs succeeds in presenting early moments that earn some raunchy laughter, the profanity and marijuana induced story wears thin long before the film’s climax. Worthy of note are costars Mike Epps (Next Friday, The Hangover) and Tika Sumpter (Sonic the Hedgehog). Epps, who feels perfect for the film’s less than serious tone, plays Kareem, a gun toting aged street criminal who desperately needs a path toward salvation, much like Jennings. Tika Sumpter’s Cherise, is Jennings’ former high school flame who now only wants from him his ability to guide her son’s youth football team to respectability. This is a tall task for a man in Jennings who seems to have lost respect for himself. The plot contrivance laden Amazon / MGM vehicle plays out in disappointing fashion. The biggest regret The Underdoggs should feel is in taking its lovable and globally recognizable star and positioning Snoop Dogg as an unredeemable character. Calvin Broadus Jr. has lived one of life’s greatest redemption stories on his path to becoming America’s favorite uncle. It is a shame that The Underdoggs couldn’t get out of its own way enough to leverage Snoop’s lovable marketability to make a film more worthy of celebration.
Target Score 3/10 - Snoop Dogg, one of the beloved godfathers of hip hop returns to his Long Beach roots in a raunchy and unapologetically R rated youth sports comedy. Capturing only brief glimpses of Snoop’s magnetic lovability, The Underdoggs is a football film better left in the locker room.