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By David DiCerto
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- In 1976, Sylvester Stallone's underdog icon went the distance in the heavyweight ring. That same year, a real-life South Philly long shot defied similar odds to play professional football.

Based on the inspirational story of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Vince Papale, "Invincible" (Disney) is the kind of Cinderella sports movie too corny to believe if it weren't true. Director Ericson Core follows a generic underdog formula -- think "Rocky" meets "Rudy" -- but you'll find it hard not to cheer.

Mark Wahlberg plays Papale, a substitute teacher and part-time bartender whose life hits rock bottom when his wife leaves him, scribbling an emasculating jab at his self-esteem on the way out that later serves as motivation.

Part of the problem is the late hours he keeps roughing it up playing football with the guys -- all diehard Eagles fans -- whose own bleak lives mirror their beloved team's recent downward spiral.

Meanwhile, in an effort to jump-start their flagging franchise, Eagles ownership brings in Rose Bowl "golden boy" Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) as new head coach who --- for publicity -- announces the team will hold open tryouts.

Prodded by his barfly buddies (the likable Michael Rispoli, Kirk Acevedo and Michael Kelly), Papale, without any pro or college experience, tries out and catches the eye of Vermeil, who invites him to training camp, though it seems he has little hope of making the team.

The self-doubting Papale endures ridicule and physical punishment from the "real" players, while vicariously carrying the hopes of his neighborhood -- including his factory-worker father (Kevin Conway) -- on his padded shoulders. In the end, his grit and determination wins over Vermeil, his teammates and eventually the entire city.

Ripping a page from the feel-good playbook of "The Rookie" and "Miracle" (also produced by Disney), the film owes much of its charm to the everyman charisma of Wahlberg's performance. And while grittier and broodier than those two movies, like them it uses sports as a metaphor for redemption and overcoming obstacles. It also touches on the role sports play in the lives of many Americans.

There is a brief mention that his wife wants a divorce, but, nonetheless, some may find Papale's relationship with a barmaid (Elizabeth Banks) problematic. (There is one scene of the couple entering his apartment and closing the front door, which, though discreetly handled, sticks out in that the rest of their onscreen romance is kept strictly PG.)

"Invincible" is not just for sports fans. Anyone who has ever had a dream should enjoy it, though some may find it hard watching the bone-crushing gridiron sequences, which are intense in their realism.

At one point Vermeil tells his team that "heart" is the key to success in sports and can make up for shortcomings. The same goes for movies. On that count, "Invincible" is a winner.

The film contains some mildly crude language, intense football violence, and a presumed off-screen premarital situation, limiting its appropriateness to older adolescents and up. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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DiCerto is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.


Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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