You can’t accurately describe Oliver Stone’s manic Any Given Sunday as a film; it is much better thought of as a two and a half hour long line of cocaine. Frenzied, harried, over-rendered and just a tad fucking nuts, this, uh, “film” really is the cinematic equivalent of getting cornered at a party by some dude who has been doing rails for most of the evening and now wants to talk your ear off–loudly–about a subject he is only marginally familiar with. It becomes shockingly clear that Stone and company are not only high out of their gourds, but are much more concerned with the politics of big time football than they are with the game itself. Some may argue that the two are intimately intertwined; two heads of the same coin. I argue that this is not a Michael Mann film and that the glorious game that is NFL football far overshadows any niggling concerns regarding the apparatus surrounding it. Stone chooses to think different. Compiled below are just a few of the issues he decides to, um, tackle:
- Owner vs. City
- Owner vs. Coach
- Owner vs. League
- Coach vs. Players
- TV timeouts
- Young vs. Old
- Racking up years of injuries and playing through pain for the love of the game and glory vs. Racking up years of injuries and playing through pain for the love of money
- Injured players vs. Team doctors
- Black vs. White
- Women in the Locker room
- Past vs. Future
- Run vs. Pass
- Being a team player vs. Showboating
- Pro players being role models vs. Pro players being thug/pimps
- Wives vs. Hookers
- Media vs. Coaches
- Cocaine snorted off hookers’ titties vs. Cocaine snorted off hookers’ asses
More impressively, even with the incessant grandstanding and muckraking, there is not a dull moment. As is usual, Stone delivers oodles of action in every scene, even if his bizarre, unnecessary and frankly perplexing PCP-overdose style editing techniques make your eyes jump round like rabid coyotes. You become fully aware that the game itself is the very last thing on Stone’s mind once you watch a few of the “action” sequences that take place on the field. First of all, any of you who have ever watched NFL Films Presents knows that there is a real art form to capturing gridiron action on film. Nobody comes close to doing it as well as Steve Sabel and his crew do it. Literal masterpieces of filmmaking. It is an art form that Stone obviously knows nothing about. Every single play ended either in a bone-jarring, limb/neck-snapping, career-ending tackle or a touchdown. There was nothing in the middle. Essentially, Stone presented us exactly what the failed XFL desired so badly to be. Poochie-style action with uber-ballsy players outsmarting coaches and the defense on every play. See Micahel Vick. The on-field parts were easily the worst of the “film.” However, the off the field hi jinks, antics and God-knows-what were pure gold.
Standing in the middle of all this and screaming wildly is none other than Al “Hoo-Ah!” Pacino, once again appearing in his new persona–a busted down but quite emotional old codger. He plays Tony D’Amato, the head coach a the Miami Sharks (for various and fairly obvious reasons, a whole bunch of phony teams were made up including the very bizarre Dallas Crusaders whose players wear the red cross of the Knights Hospitaller on their chests). Just a few years prior, D’Amato and star quarterback ‘Cap’ Rooney (Dennis Quaid) had managed to win the “Pantheon Bowl,” but those glory years appear to be way behind both of them. Anyhow, Pacino is a very weird choice for this role; say what you want about the man, but he drips Upper-East Side from every pore of his being. I’m hesitant to use the word “cultured,” but I mean the most sophisticated coach in the NFL right is, um… uh, that one guy… You know… OK, it’s a toss up between Mariucci and Holmgren. I mean, when I think Pacino I think smooth-talking Brooklyn pimp Johnny doing everything humanly possible to get Michelle Phifer’s pants off in Frankie & Johnny, you know? Not him as Don Shula. Even worse though, is Cameron “Pizza-Face” Diaz as the team owner. Damn! She was hysterical. We have a thread going in The Ruthless Forum about “most woefully miscast role,” and while Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist or Julia Stules as a CIA boss will never really be beaten, Diaz as a tough as nails, profit-first, major-league team owner is way the fuck up there. Even stranger is how Stone decided to go all Robert Altman on us and have both of them screaming over each other for ten minutes straight. Oh, and I cannot not mention the scene where Diaz is in the locker room shaking hands with a guy whose cock is nearly down to his knee. Only Stone!
What really makes Any Given Sunday so magnificently enjoyable are the wonderful cameos. First and greatest is Lawrence Taylor as “Shark” Lavay (what a name!). He basically plays himself; a revolutionary-type linebacker who has changed the face of the game. However, he’s getting old and now has some bizarre head trauma where if he gets hit in just the right way–and you damn well know that “right way” will be the game clinching tackle–he’ll become paralyzed or die. However, if he gets X number of tackles he then he gets a million dollar bonus. “Shark” never even considers not playing. In one of the most freakish scenes in the film, newly appointed head trainer Mathew Modine asks “Shark” how his balance is. In a voice so absurd Mike Tyson is still jealous, “Shark” responds, “You mean my checking balance? Phat! P.H.A.T. Phat. Hey Doc, give me another shot.” Modine tells “Shark” that medically another shot makes no sense. “I don’t give a fuck about Medically. Give me another shot of that cortisone shit.” I’m squealing just thinking about. Also, in what has to be one of the most perplexing scenes in modern, uh, OK, I’ll call it cinema, LT delivers a passionate yet undecipherable speech to Jamie Foxx in a steam room. Brilliant! LT also cuts Foxx’s SUV in half with a power saw cause Foxx is too cocky. Get it?
Modine is the head trainer because James Woods was the head trainer but he went behind coach D’Amato’s back and made a secret deal with owner Diaz to clear “Shark” but not “Cap.” Woods is of course his usual, loveable scum-bag self, making every move in the shadiest way possible but then justifying his shifty behavior with some fast-talking jive that sounds almost legitimate. When coach D’Amato discovers the backstabbing and fires Woods right there on the practice field, Woods doesn’t really seem to mind. But then his cheerleader girlfriend refuses to leave with him, so he is forced to shout, “Perfect. Fuck. OK stay here and get butt fucked by 12 Neanderthals. Bitch.” God I love this (uh) film! Also good is the great Jim Brown as the defensive coach, Elizabeth Berkeley as the hooker, Chuck Heston as the Commissioner, Barry Switzer and Stone himself as the announcers, and Ann-Margret as Diaz’s boozehound mother. All in all, a strong cast gets put to very good, if not delightful use. I mean, even LL Cool J is good.
Last but not least we have Willie “Steamin’” Beamen (Jamie Foxx) as the black man that every single white man automatically hates. Brash, cocksure, disrespectful and he hates all the nostalgia that Coach D’Amato tries to subdue him with about the glory of NFL lore. Lombardi, Papa Bear, the Galloping Ghost, etc. You know damn well he was named “Willie” cause it means penis. As he typically does, Foxx turns in an excellent performance, even though here they ought to have just named his character “He Hate Me.” All in all, Any Given Sunday is just so outlandish and so much fun that you can’t actually critique it like you could a normal film. I mean, I’ve seen it seven times and I couldn’t even begin to tell you about the plot, assuming one actually exists. Everything is out of control at all times. Like, when the black players make fun of the white players’ music, the craziest of the white players throws an alligator at them. What the fuck is that?! And, when they notice one of the opposing down linemen rocks forward on certain plays, D’Amato has his players hit the guy in such a way that his eye pops out! I’m not kidding. His fucking eye is lying on the carpet. Also of note is the way that almost every scene begins with lets say Wagner playing, transitions into some rap song prominently and proudly showcasing the word “nigger,” and then ends with Slayer. Stone is simply out of his fucking mind. And I love him for it.