In exchange forthe right to use real team uniforms in their movie, the producers of Goal! TheDream Begins gave FIFA, soccer's governing body, the right to approve thescript. This fact is significant for two reasons. First, it answers a questionlikely to trouble most viewers: Did someone actually approve this script? Andsecond, it reportedly drove director Michael Winterbottom to quit the project,which is a shame, because he is precisely what the film could have used.
In 2002's 24 HourParty People, Winterbottom tackled a subject--the "Madchester" musicscene of the 1980s--that is, like soccer, far more likely to mean something toa Brit than a Yank. He employed a host of nontraditional storytelling devices(such as the faux documentary and breaking down the fourth wall) to make awildly entertaining movie that resonated with American viewers because itconveyed the underlying appeal of a uniquely British phenomenon. Unfortunately,Danny Cannon, the CSI vet who took over Goal!, shows none of Winterbottom'singenuity, making an agreeable but ultimately familiar and predictablerags-to-riches tale.
Goal!, the firstof a planned trilogy, tells the story of Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker), who, 10years after sneaking out of Mexico with his family, is discovered playingsoccer in an L.A. park by a down-on-his-luck scout (the outstanding StephenDillane) who arranges a tryout with club Newcastle. As if flying to northernEngland for a one-shot trial isn't an intimidating enough task for youngSantiago, screenwriters Mike Jefferies and Adrian Butchart practically bury himwith baggage: a father who doesn't support his dream; a mother who abandonedhim; a love interest who's too deep to date soccer players; and a teammate whodespises newbies so much that he stomps on Santiago's inhaler before a biggame. (Did we mention he's got asthma, too?)
When he's notwheezing, Santiago does play some soccer, and it's those scenes that are themovie's best. Thanks to the FIFA deal, the game footage, which features some ofthe biggest names in European football (Steven Gerrard, Alan Shearer) is fastand gritty. It shows the beautiful game at its most beautiful. Unfortunately,the movie gets so obsessed with loading challenges upon its hero that it neverfinds time to address the question of why the game arouses such passion inthose who play it and watch it.