The Program (1993)

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The trials and tribulations of a college football team over the course of a season are explored in this film from the director of the hit baseball comedy Major League.

Eastern State University has been unable to enter the college playoffs in three years. This year, they look to turn things around. They recruit a freshman tailback, Darnell Jefferson.  Quarterback Joe Kane is a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Linebacker Alvin Mack wants to be a true leader for the defense. Cornerback Steve Lattimer has come this season fully pumped and ready. However, as the season comes to a head, problems begin to slowly plague the team.

Joe suffers from constant drinking and adrenaline to make up for the lack of support from his father. Darnell needs a tutor to help with his entrance exams and when he falls for his tutor, Autumn, he finds himself in competition with Ray, a tailback who turns out to be Autumn’s boyfriend. This causes a rivalry both on and off the field between the two. Lattimer is revealed to be doing steroids and during an after party, he goes on a roid rage and finds himself suspended for three games. Joe’s drinking takes a turn for the worse, causing him to go to rehab. Backup quarterback Bobby Collins is expelled from school because he convinced his girlfriend Luanne to take his exam for him. Even worse, Luanne is the coach’s daughter. As the team goes through their personal problems off the field, they must persevere if they want to break the streak and make the playoffs.

Director/co-writer David S. Ward has an interesting way to tell the story of sports teams. He stretches out the film to explore the trials and tribulations of teams throughout an entire season. His hit film Major League was a comedy that focused on the Cleveland Indians, which was made up of a band of ragtag players. For this film, Ward and co-writer Aaron Latham bring a more emotional tale in the world of college football.

While James Caan is given top billing as the coach of the football team, the focus of the film is more on the players, notably Craig Sheffer’s star quarterback, freshman tailback Omar Epps, and in some cases, defensive end Andrew Bryniarski. These three are the ones who go through the most in the film. Sheffer does well as Joe Kane, the Heisman candidate who lets his alcoholism nearly shatters his dream of getting the brass ring. Epps does quite well as newcomer Jefferson, who finds himself trying to do his best on the field while he has a rival both on and off the field with someone who is not only starting tailback but is also the boyfriend of the girl he falls for. As Steve Lattimer, Andrew Bryniarski does well as someone who is overpowering due to steroid use and then realizes his mistakes only to try to make himself a better person.

There are some set comic pieces in the film, but there is an excised scene worth mentioning. An initial screening of the film shows three football players lying in the middle of the street with cars passing them. After the screening, some kids tried to emulate this stunt and were killed. As a result, all of the prints no longer have this particular scene…and for good reason.

Nevertheless, if you are a fan of sports films, then it is good to check out The Program to see the world of college football both on and off the field. James Caan, Criag Sheffer, Omar Epps, and Andrew Bryniarski as well as the rest of the cast do quite well. Definitely worth checking out.

WFG RATING: A-

A Touchstone Pictures production. Director: David S. Ward. Producer: Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Writers: David S. Ward and Aaron Latham. Cinematography: Victor Hammer. Editing: Kimberly Ray and Paul Seydor.

Cast: James Caan, Craig Sheffer, Omar Epps, Kristy Swanson, Halle Berry, Abraham Benrubi, Duane Davis, Jon Maynard Pennell, Joey Lauren Adams, Andrew Bryniarski, J. Leon Pridgen II.

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