‘American Underdog’: The Kurt Warner Biopic Is Long on Inspiration But Light on Faith

‘American Underdog’: The Kurt Warner Biopic Is Long on Inspiration But Light on Faith December 20, 2021

Actor Zachary Levin, in a football uniform, stands with the man he plays, quarterback Kurt Warner
(L-R) Zachary Levi, Kurt Warner, of ‘American Underdog’/ Photo: Michael Kubeisy/Lionsgate

Some faith-based movies have been accused (often with good cause) of being a bit heavy-handed with the Christian content. That can’t be said of American Underdog, due in theaters on Christmas Day, and it’s a good thing.

Who is Kurt Warner?

Pro Football Hall of fame quarterback Kurt Warner’s unlikely path to his status as an NFL legend is, well, the stuff of sports legends. He’s also a strong man of faith, which helped sustain him in an up-and-down road from Iowa college QB to a brief flicker as a Green Bay Packer, to grocery stock clerk, to arena football, then back to the NFL.

Along the way, he married a Marine veteran and divorced mother of two children, including a son with special needs.

I got to sit down briefly with Warner in 2015, when he appeared on Beyond A.D., the online talk-show companion to Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s short-lived NBC series A.D.: The Bible Continues.

From that interview:

Told he’s a good Christian man in conversation before the taping, Warner smiled and said, “Well, I hope I’m a Christian man, anyways. I hope that I’m good in a lot of ways.

How does American Underdog tell Warner’s story?

American Underdog comes from the filmmaking team of brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin, who previously made such Christian-centric films as The Jesus Music, I Can Only Imagine, I Still Believe, Mom’s Night Out, Woodlawn and October Baby. It also represents their latest project with studio Lionsgate, home to the Erwins’ Kingdom Story Company.

Chuck and Shazam! star Zachary Levi is solid as Warner, whose chief virtue — aside from a cannon of a throwing arm — is perseverance. That doggedness earns him the love of once-burned, twice-shy Brenda (Anna Paquin) and, eventually, the chance to start for the Rams.

Paquin gives a standout performance as the nervy, unconventional Brenda, who’s got quite the life story — told in a monologue that the actress miraculously makes almost sound like normal speech — and is initially unsure of what to think of Warner as a suitor.

Together, the stars bring warmth and believability, and a touch of humor, to Kurt and Brenda’s romance.

The film also features some reunions. Levi’s Chuck co-star Adam Baldwin pops up as one of Warner’s early coaches, and I Can Only Imagine star Dennis Quaid plays Rams coach Dick Vermeil.

Much of American Underdog takes place in Iowa. The film’s shooting location in and around Oklahoma City allowed the Erwins to take advantage of the vast expanses of open country to give the film some cinematic scope.

Finding the right balance of faith and football

In American Underdog, even if Warner wasn’t a religious man, his athletic journey is compelling on its own. Adding in touches of his and Brenda’s Christianity only adds depth to an already strong narrative. Also, the faith aspect is integrated into the story as a whole, rather than being the focal point.

What Warner accomplished as an athlete is remarkable, especially in the unforgiving world of professional football, where careers can be very short and comebacks are hard to come by.

As a football fan, what amused me is that Warner is told over and over again to stay “in the pocket.” Whereas his normal instinct is to run with the ball, he’s ordered to stay behind his defenders and pass or hand the ball off to someone else.

In today’s NFL, quarterbacks who are primarily “pocket passers” still exist, the most notable being multiple Super-Bowl-winner Tom Brady. But it’s the scrambling quarterback — such as the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray — that gets modern fans and commentators excited.

I particularly enjoyed the football sequences in the film, which are dynamic and fun to watch. In addition to pulling off the emotional side of Warner’s life, I also believed Levi as an athlete, even in the college scenes (for which the 41-year-old actor might be a whisker too mature in real life).

Ultimately, was it faith, destiny, luck or determination that pulled Warner from the supermarket aisle to the Super Bowl? Maybe, as in most things in life, the answer is, all of the above.

American Underdog hits theaters on Dec. 25. Click here for more information.

Image: Michael Kubeisy/Lionsgate

Don’t miss a thing: Subscribe to all that I write at Authory.com/KateOHare

About Kate O'Hare
Based in Los Angeles, Kate O'Hare is an entertainment journalist, Social Media Content Manager for Catholic production company Family Theater Productions and a screenwriter. You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives