If all football games were like the ones in this movie, I would definitely watch more NFL games. Alas, "The Program" is a movie, and we all know that things aren't what they seem in the movies. This film is about a fictional university, ESU, and their embattled football program. After facing two loosing seasons, Coach Winters (James Caan) is looking at loosing his career unless he can turn his team around. However, the team he has to work with this season is full of potential....and problems. You have your motley crew of characters such as, star quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Joe Kane (Craig Sheffer), who is a self-destructive drunk and winds up in rehab. The defensive back, Steve Lattimer (Andrew Bryniarski), who comes off the summer miraculously 35 lbs heavier, bashing his head into cars, and tries to rape a girl at a party. Then, there is freshman running back Darnell Jefferson (Omarr Epps) who has all the talent and makings of a star, but isn't the sharpest tack in the kit when it comes to academics. To ensure that he passes the basic skills requirements he gets a tutor, Autumn Jackson (Halle Berry) but soon learns that her boyfriend is also in competition for the position of starting running back. Needless to say, things get complicated more than they need to be. Another pretty girl and distressed girlfriend is a raven-haired Kristy Swanson, who is reluctantly wooed by Sheffer.
Basically, the movie focuses on the major players (Sheffer and Epps), their romances, and the questionable practices of the NCAA and alumni societies in support of college athletics, and how Coach Winters tries to keep it all together and put out the fires as they occur. Winters rarely smiles and only has football on his mind. Which is evident when he confiscates Kane's motorcycle to avoid any unnecessary "risk" and especially when he goes to the academic board of appeals to have one of his players reinstated at ESU after being expelled along with the student who was caught taking a test for him. That other student turned out to be Coach Winters' daughter (Joey Lauren Adams before her Kevin Smith movie days). The player gets reinstated on the coach's word and because of his value to The Program (at this point Kane is in rehab and another key player has busted his leg). Coach Winter never defends his daughter, and she goes off to City College.
The film will expose the underhanded bribes of monetary gifts and other forms of unethical compensation that the alumni and others give the players. At first Jefferson is bothered by it, but after his teammates inform him that the University expects him to live off a small stipend while it makes millions off of his efforts, he doesn't feel as bad. Further you will see the lengths that Lattimer and obviously other real-life players have gone through to avoid steroid use detection. One of the methods makes me cringe and wonder what price will people pay for a shot at athletic superstardom.
While I found the entire movie quite entertaining, the most intense part was the last half hour of the movie which focused on ESU's big game and last shot at a winning season. You knew that they would win it, but HOW they won it kept you on the edge of your seats. There are a lot of warm and fuzzy human elements that come into play but in the end, when the fans have cleared the stands, and the players have left the field, you'll hear the echoes of the ESU staff nonchallantly discussing future plans for The Program.Billz Movie Worthiness Scale: B