Super Bowl championship winning coach Sean Payton announced he was leaving his New Orleans Saints after 16 years with the franchise last week.
Just days after his decision, a brand-new Netflix film about a pivotal moment in Payton’s coaching career ironically debuted focusing on yet another time Payton was away from his Saints.
Home Team, a collaboration between Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions and Netflix, is based on his life during the 2012 NFL season, where Payton was suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell for an entire year due to a scandal where assistant coaches paid bounties to players for injuring their opponents.
The Kevin James-led film follows Payton back in his hometown of Argyle, Texas, where he helps a rag-tag middle school football team, including his young son Connor, turn around a losing season.
James is perhaps the most serious he has been in his entire filmography as Payton, a man struggling to find his identity without a job for a year while trying to reconnect with his son. James has truly funny comedic moments that come as natural extensions of the script rather than the comedian trying too hard to force the issue and over-power the punchline.
There’s a genuine warmth to his performance that endears the audience to Payton’s plight and helps build the foundation of an easy, yet enjoyable sports comedy.
Twilight star Taylor Lautner plays the team’s young head coach and while his performance is somewhat static and monotonous, it plays well opposite James and some of the more outgoing young stars on the team.
Because every football movie seems to require an alcoholic assistant coach, Gary Valentine stumbles through his lines physically and verbally as Mitch Bizone. For a PG-rated film, pre-teens may find Valentine’s performance comedic, but it truly comes across as ineffective and just slightly over-the-top.
Rob Schneider plays Payton’s ex-wife’s new husband, a vegan holistic teacher who serves no real purpose other than to make James seem more normal and relatable by comparison.
Directors Charles and Daniel Kinnane do their best to mimic classic sports films like The Bad News Bears and The Sandlot with their film and, at times, their direction evokes those films in a positive light.
But for the most part, Home Team suffers from the same overwrought sports cliches that plague so many movies in this genre and leans in a bit too much into the light-hearted, boisterous physical comedy prevalent in Sandler-produced films. There are several extraneous characters written into the screenplay from Chris Titone and Keith Blum that feel design just to elongate the film’s running time and Texas football fans will have issues with the timeline and season schedule represented for middle school teams in the movie.
As Netflix films go, Home Team is at best a middling feature not worth a look for adult cinephiles who haven’t poured through the studio’s extensive catalog of prestige films like The Power of the Dog and Tick, Tick, Boom. But for young moviegoers looking for something along the same lines as American Underdog that they can watch in the privacy of their homes, they could do far worse.