Burdened with the most optimistic title since Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, Goal! The Dream Begins is indeed the first part of a trilogy that will eventually take a soccer-mad kid from Los Angeles to the World Cup. But first, he's gotta get out of the barrio; good thing there's a cliché-ridden story arc to get him there.
This chapter brings young Santiago Munez (Mexican telenovela hunk Kuno Becker
) to grubby Tyneside, U.K., a destination most sun-addicted Angelinos would only consider a Dream if they were going to play Premiership soccer. Fortunately, after a scout from Newcastle United observes his ball skills, this is exactly Santiago's fate. Soon he's saying adios to his undocumented immigrant family, including Dad, who'd rather his son pursue the American dream of mowing other people's grass. Somehow Santiago gets a passport, and off he goes. Article continues below
Santi, as he comes to be known by teammates, at first eats a lot of mud on the practice squad but eventually cracks the injury-cursed starting lineup. He also makes fast pals with his fellow Yank on the team, hard-partying and wisecracking striker Gavin (Alessandro Nivola
), and to complete the fantasy, he engages in a forbidden (yet still dull) romance with team nurse Roz (Anna Friel
). You'll have to figure out for yourself why these people take a shine to such a boring kid.
The soccer scenes are decent, spliced together with real Premiership game footage to convincing effect. But otherwise, director Danny Cannon
, who previously crafted such classics as Judge Dredd and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, lends Goal! an unmistakable after-school special feel, which might have been his best choice given the juvenility of the story. (Cannon was not invited back to direct the sequels.)
Goal! is a junk pile of wooden performances, with the lone exception of Nivola's American playboy Gavin. A trilogy about him – the movie's only amusing character – instead of mopey Santi would have been thrice as much fun, and also thrice as ironic since Goal! opened in pretty much every country in the world before it got to the USA. Even worse than the cast is the cameos, including one by a wax replica of David Beckham.
Goal! also offers suspense and drama by the microgram. Every stock element of the young-man-rising-to-glory tale is present and accounted for, and the four-man writing team sustains massive effort to avoid any twists that might deviate from the formula.
If you've ever seen another sports movie, you've seen Goal! But if you haven't, and you just adore English football, this extended infomercial for FIFA might eke out just a little cheer. In spite of its promising title, Goal! is decidedly nil-nil.