MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY'S career has officially entered its twilight. He started with so much promise—his rakish attorney in A Time to Kill, his creepy lout in Dazed and Confused—but now, with We Are Marshall, he's merely settled into a headliner role as just another pretty face.
The awkwardly named Marshall tells a true story about a West Virginia college football team. In 1970, when returning from a losing match against East Carolina, the charter plane carrying Marshall University's team and its coaching staff crashed; all but four of the team's players were killed. Obviously, there's a lot of material here for a truly dramatic storyline—but instead, director McG (Charlie's Angels, The O.C.) spends most of Marshall trying to trigger the audience's tear glands.
The movie starts strong: With Robert Altman deftness, dozens of storylines and lives are woven together. It is an engaging and rich tapestry of stories, overshadowed, of course, by impending, inevitable tragedy. But after the story's premise is set—i.e., after the plane crashes—the film wanders into an overly schmaltzy zone. In the aftermath of the crash, and with the university's football program on the ropes, McConaughey enters the scene as the quirky yet oddly compassionate coach, a role that's a requisite for every sports movie. He's determined to remind the college administrators, the townspeople, and us that it is not winning that matters, but how you play the game. Blah blah blah.
Sure, there are cute scenes as McConaughey and his assistant coach (played by Lost's Matthew Fox, who really should have reconsidered taking on another plane crash-centric story) grab-ass each other, while in the background, a grieving cheerleader struggles about whether she should move on past her dead quarterback boyfriend. But ultimately, the football players grunt way too loudly, sweat way too profusely, and McConaughey spends all his screen time fumbling away his talent.