I know the rule is to not judge something by its cover, but we all do it — you can’t help but do it — and movie studios wouldn’t make posters and trailers if they didn’t want audiences to get some kind of an idea of what they were in for before the movie started. When it came to Universal’s The Express I not only assumed it would be just another generic sports flick, but I also just can’t get passed that ugly artwork. Sorry, I can’t stand watching the Cleveland Browns because of those ugly jerseys and the Syracuse Orangemen aren’t much better. My favorite college basketball team is the North Carolina Tar Heels and I may be the only one that started liking them because I thought their jerseys were cool and not because of Michael Jordan. Of course names such as Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace playing for Dean Smith doesn’t hurt either even though Bill Guthridge tried to get me to give up on them (and Doherty didn’t help much either). So to say I prejudged The Express would be an understatement, but as it turns out not only is this film good, it stays as far away from all those sports movie cliches as it can and it is better for it.
The Express tells the tragic tale of Ernie Davis, the famed Syracuse running back that followed the footsteps of Jim Brown and never got a chance to get beyond becoming the first black football player to win the Heisman Trophy. Where the film succeeds is largely in its telling as it takes a cue from its inspiration and never deviates from its main goal, telling Ernie’s story. It never lingers long on the racism of the day or Ernie’s illness or even those close to him. It simply tells the story in a well paced film that even managed to keep to a PG-rating.
The other deterrent for me when looking at this title was Dennis Quaid as a football coach. Quaid has a quality of acting that can only be described as “Quaidy”. This is to say he has mastered the cliche scowl and it is always upsetting to see him resort to such roles as he has in such stinkers as Vantage Point, The Day After Tomorrow and The Alamo. He snarls and glares his way through those films and it all comes off as such an act. However, the idea of playing a football coach takes those qualities and uses them for good.
Quaid plays Coach Ben Schwartzwalder, a good guy that seems to perhaps have a twinge of racism to him, but not to a fault as much as it seems to come as a result of getting to know something new. Considering he is a good guy he has to put on a tough guy act of sorts for his players, as all football coaches must to earn the respect of their team. Quaid does a very good job in the role and in the more quieter moments reminds us he is a great actor when he isn’t yelling and giving the evil eye every minute, just check out In Good Company or Smart People if you don’t know what I am talking about.
Rob Brown who plays Davis is perfectly fine and I think almost anytime Omar Benson Miller has a role you can expect at least one smile throughout the feature as he just may be one of the most likable actors to come along in a long, long time.
In terms of features it is all pretty much generic when it comes to featurettes as three of them talk about how great Ernie Davis is, another focuses on the shooting of the football scenes and the Blu-ray exclusive feature taking a look at the 50th Anniversary of the Syracuse football National Championship basically gives a little more detail on the movie you just watched.
However, I would say you should definitely give the deleted scenes a peek and do so with director Gary Fleder’s commentary on as he explains how cutting the select group of scenes helped avoid sport movie cliches and boy did he make the right decision. He touches on the subject often in his commentary during the film and I would say you may want to give that a listen if you are really interested, but the feature to watch here are the deleted scenes and their accompanying commentary.
Of course, after all this praise I still wouldn’t recommend this disc as a buy outside of the traditional sport movie fanatic. Sure, it’s a good movie with good acting, direction and some beautiful camerawork, but it still remains a sport movie and very few of those tend to hit it out of the park when it comes to rewatchability (nope, not a real word). There are definitely the classics, but this one is just a good watch and not one you will be aching to watch repeatedly. Give it a peek and see what you think and definitely don’t judge it by its cover.