Xzibit, left, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson star in Gridiron Gang.


Gridiron Gang

Stars: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Xzibit

Director: Phil Joanou

*** (out of five)

YOU KNOW THE DRILL: In a world of despair and misery, a bunch of nohope kids get themselves into big trouble, and are redeemed by the passion and conviction of a grownup who believes in them — and, in turn, makes them believe in themselves.

That’s the story of Gridiron Gang, and as you might imagine, it’s a true one, based on a real football program launched in a California juvenile-detention centre by a guy named Sean Porter.

The idea was pretty simple: Get the kids thinking like teammates instead of enemies, and hope they carry that mindset back out into the real world. According to the movie, it even worked once in a while.

Of course, with a coach as prickly as The Rock (now billing himself as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, for those of you keeping track) ... well, let’s just say you’d be inclined to better yourself, too.

After oversized projects like Doom and Be Cool, Gridiron Gang is a perfect vehicle for the former wrestler; it lets him relax into his easy, regular-guy charisma, and the supporting cast of young unknowns fits nicely into his orbit. (Hip-hopper Xzibit also demonstrates a charming scowl as Porter’s assistant.)

If you’ve seen Coach Carter or Glory Road or Hoosiers or Remember The Titans or any of the other inspirational sports pictures floating around these days, there won’t be any real surprises, but director Phil Joanou stages every football scene for maximum impact, and lets the actors build characters over the course of the movie rather than try to define them through tattoos and catchphrases. It’s a gesture that goes just a little bit beyond the requirements of formula. You can say the same thing for the movie as a whole.