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Champions is a Woody Harrelson movie. But the more important characters in this film are the folks with “intellectual disabilities” on his basketball team.

Marcus (Harrelson) gets bounced from his gig as an assistant coach on a minor league hoops squad for insubordination. He drives drunk… right into a police car. He is given community service: coach this untalented team of apparent misfits.

If you’ve seen one sports redemption movie, you’ve seen ‘em all. You can guess what’s going to happen here. But… the journey to the unsurprising outcome has its fun moments.

Quick warning: Champions is not a movie for little kids. It’s PG-13 with sexual references and language but no nudity. Champions is directed by Bobby Farrelly who, with his brother, directed Woody in the funny and downright weird 1996 bowling movie Kingpin (which also had some crude humor).

As Champions begins Marcus is sending off his one-night stand Alex (Kaitlin Olson) only to have her reappear as the sister of one of the intellectually challenged players. She and Marcus ramp up their relationship. (Olson is best-known for her work on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.)

Alex is a Shakespearian actress who plies her trade for school groups. Her van that takes her act on the road also serves as a transport for her brother and his teammates.

Marcus has one truly talented player. But Darius (Joshua Felder), a brain damaged young man, refuses to play for him until Marcus learns why.

In these ultra sensitive times, it may be borderline courageous to focus on young adults with learning disabilities. Ben Stiller was recently roasted again for his film Tropic Thunder and that film’s ridiculous suggestion that an actor portraying a person with learning disabilities never go “full (R-word)” if he wants to win an Oscar. 

There could be criticism for the portrayals of these individuals in the movie from friends and family of persons existing in similar circumstances. But thumbs up to Farrelly and Woody for presenting this crew with good humor and appropriate respect.

Also in the cast are Ernie “Ghostbusters” Hudson as the coach who fires Marcus but later befriends him. And Cheech Marin as the director of the team’s community center.

Champions clocks in at just over two hours. Which seems about 15 minutes too long. But the soundtrack is fun. Tubthumping by Chumbawamba! Among other cool tunes.

Not a “must see.” But an upbeat underdog movie can bring a bit of joy and who doesn’t need some of that these days?


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