There’s a bit of history between this title and I. As a retail worker in an electronics department, I was subjected to trailers of upcoming movies playing over and over for hours on end. There were movies such as The Avengers, Tomorrowland, and Paper Towns, but one movie stuck out for being particularly… annoying. This movie was Underdogs, a movie about overcoming adversity, believing in miracles, and soccer (or fútbol). It seemed like typical low-brow animated kids’ junk from the trailers, but a little research made the movie all the more intriguing to me. Originally called Metegol, the film was produced in Argentina, and was released all the way back in 2013. The film won a wide variety of awards within the country, and eventually it was scheduled to have an English dub for an American release. However, as time went on, the film’s theater release date was pushed back multiple times, until it was eventually pulled from the schedule altogether. It wouldn’t be released in America until July of this year, straight to DVD and blu-ray.
The intrigue doesn’t stop there. This is just me theorizing, but I believe the English dub of this film went through production hell for many years. The trailers for the English theatrical release show various lines that are never uttered in the final version, and even have different voices for specific characters. Many of the jokes shown in the trailer are not in the final version. Most damning of all, Metegol has a total runtime of an hour and forty-six minutes. Underdogs has a runtime of an hour and twenty-five minutes. Twenty-one minutes of film mysteriously vanish from one language to another. With all of these loose ends, it’s hard to really criticize the movie’s original form, as I don’t speak the language it was released for. I can only share my thoughts on its English release as Underdogs. So for those who have seen the movie in its intended language, note that I am looking at this film as Underdogs, the American (and apparently shortened) version released only within the last two months.
The film is 95% flashback. The entire story of Underdogs is a recollection of an old father’s childhood and young adulthood in story form. This story is told to his son, who is feeling inadequate with himself for whatever reason. Something about soccer. This story has Jake, the male hero, showcasing his absurd love for foosball to his friends. It then introduces Ace, the antagonist of the film, as he comes in and bullies Jake by beating him at foosball. However, Jake decides enough is enough and defeats Ace many times over, leaving him humiliated. This loss to Jake leaves Ace so distraught with himself that he vows revenge at all costs. That revenge comes many years later, when the main cast are now adults, as Ace comes back to the town and announces he’s purchased it with his fortune after becoming the world’s biggest soccer star. His first order of business is to demolish the entire town to rid himself of any evidence of his loss to Jake many years prior. Jake, defeated, is crying near the center of the town when one of his tears lands on a foosball figurine off of his foosball table. This tear brings this figurine to life (and all the rest of them, apparently), as the adventure begins to unfold soon after. Very soon after.
The first and most immediate problem with this film is every scene after the figurines come to life. This film has no idea what the word “pacing” is, moving at the speed of sound with scene after scene of long, overdrawn conversations and comedic skits of the figurines doing silly things. Nothing is slow. Nothing is subtle. Transitions are even abrupt as characters randomly jump from setting to setting, going from a dump to a long road to a carnival to Ace’s mansion back to the carnival into a forest and so on and so forth. This constant pounding of scene after scene of so little of overall importance alienates the audience into wondering what the entire point of the story is. Are the figurines only supposed to be comic relief? What is their point? Are they supposed to be helping Jake? As soon as the figurines come into the picture, all importance of a central conflict seems to go kaput. The film literally only shows various ways of trying to make the figurines endearing. It doesn’t work.
Even setting the pacing aside, the plot takes very obvious leaps with its logic in almost every scene. Rats are horses. Figurines talk to one another with intricate backstories that don’t make any sense because they’re toys (Why are these figurines talking about sponsors?). Jake can operate heavy machinery and limousines despite not having a car (and knows where “Ace Land” is despite its existence being short-lived). Explosions occur out of random. There are many things about Underdogs that beg for a change in the movie’s name to Overdone. It tries so hard to cram as much of a silly, adventure-like story into a half-hour timeframe that it ultimately comes off as confusing. I cannot stress enough how completely bonkers the middle of this film is. It makes The Room look competent at times. Every scene is so full of nothing that one can’t help but feel the film should’ve cut the majority of it all out.
When a story is clearly lacking, viewers turn to the characters to make up for a less immersive plot. Underdogs suffers tremendously from a narrative standpoint, but fares only slightly better in terms of character. Jake is a lovable loser type of character, who remains as one of the only characters to obtain any sort of development throughout. But as I’ve covered many times in the past, developing a weakling is among the easiest tropes to complete, so it’s not that impressive. Every other character stays within that slot that they were designed for within the movie. Laura, the female lead and romantic interest of Jake, is just that. She is the romantic interest of Jake (and for some reason Ace(?)). Nothing more, nothing less. There is a point right before Ace returns to the town where she tells Jake that she’s going to art school. This is never brought up at any point afterwards, nor does it indicate that Laura is artistic in any sense. Her entire character is “Stick up for the weak. Fight against the bully. I fall in love with hero just because.” Ace is the antagonist. He’s the epitome of everything everyone hates in a human being and does nothing to hide it. Despite this, he is famous beyond reason with an implied monstrous amount of adoring fans, despite being the worst person in existence. He never changes. Never has any shred of goodness. He’s simply bad. Because he’s bad. In fact, he’s so bad that every person in the town hated him when he was a kid. Every person cheered when Jake beat him in foosball, while Ace commented afterwards that he’d make everyone in the town love him. He might really be Satan.
The figurines, as I will not address them all by name (because I’ve forgotten most of them), range from comic relief to comic relief, with a sprinkle of helpful, magical adviser to Jake. These figurines, on an individual level, are playfully one-dimensional. I won’t comment on the fact that their characters are so one-dimensional because their entire point is to be one-dimensional. There’s the leader, the self-absorbed one, the hippie, the Russian (who gets one line throughout the movie), the Italian brothers (Reference, anyone?), among others who don’t really matter in the long run. People’s tastes in comedy vary, but I never smirked once at any intentional humor the figurines deployed. What was more funny about the movie was how randomly non-important each scene playing back to back was. These figurines, while remaining one-dimensional, don’t have the charm to pick up the film as not only do I not find them funny, but I don’t think they have any use to Jake, either. They fail as both comic relief and a helpful adviser. The only time they serve any assistance is during the last fifteen minutes of the film, and Jake quickly tells them to get off his lawn.
The only real “strength” to this movie is the final showdown with Ace and his team of all-star players. Not because it’s actually good, but because it’s not a bunch of randomly spliced scenes showing back to back without any importance. It is the only time where the film is actually focused on a particular conflict, with dedication being spent on making the match dramatic and emotionally poignant. That doesn’t mean the comedy incorporated into the scene is any better, nor are the amount of clichés bearable, but it at least gives us time to settle into a scene and stick with it, knowing full well what’s at stake and why we should care.
The canvas I’ve painted for this film is already grim, but allow me to further push it into unspeakable decay. What may be the most atrocious part of Underdogs is the voice acting, and the lip-syncing to go along with it. The voice acting during the trailers were fine. Not great, but fine. In the final product, lines become a thousand times more unintentionally hilarious due to a lack of overall effort or bad timing. The lip-syncing is worse than old kung-fu movies made back in the ’80s. People’s mouths will move far less than the amount of words being spoken, with facial expressions varying rapidly despite the monotony of the words being spoken. Ace’s voice in particular seems incredibly over the top, with every word spewing from his mouth like acid spit. Laura’s voice made an already bland character into sandpaper. However, the actor with the most hideous performance of all was Mel Brooks, who genuinely sounded like he was reading a book with every line. Not to mention, the voice does not suit his slimy businessman character whatsoever. I wouldn’t go so far as to say every voice actor was awful, but most of them probably could’ve had another retake or twenty.
The overall look and animation of Underdogs is probably the only thing the English version didn’t have enough focus to alter, leaving the style of the original film in place. Despite the 2016 release date, the animation looks very early 2010. It also looks very minimal budget, too. For what it’s worth, the colors are vibrant, the animation is smooth throughout, and the characters are memorable enough by the contour of their bodies. However, I feel the design choices of the characters are a little, should I say, uncanny valley. A few characters, particularly Laura as an adult and “Emo,” look a little odd to me based on their expressions and facial structure. There are times when Laura looks twenty, but then looks forty. Emo’s frustrated grimace is just… eugh. There is also an old woman, simply referred to as “Nana,” whose breasts literally take up her entire body. Her breasts are her stomach. They look like giant bananas under her shirt. Needless to say, it was very disturbing. The design choices are, at best, weird, with more focus geared towards lighting, color, and flair, rather than human sculpting. Fine. Not great, but fine.
When all was said and done, I was glad I was finally able to watch this movie. However, I felt slightly disappointed after knowing so much from the trailer was cut from the final version, and then learning afterwards that the original version was slightly more different than not. It makes me want to try and find the movie with English subtitles to see if the movie really is worth all the fame it’s gotten. From what the English version showed me, absolutely not. Underdogs is a complete mess of pacing, unnecessary scenes, and a lack of overall substance that only the lowest common denominator would find high quality. But does that mean Metegol is the same way? This may simply be a case of a movie’s potential being lost in translation, which I think is a shame. Only time will tell—all I know is that Underdogs was certainly not well worth the wait.
Final Score: 1/10