Kevin James as Sean Payton, Jackie Sandler as Beth, Tait...

 Kevin James as Sean Payton, Jackie Sandler as Beth, Tait Blum as Connor in "Home Team" on Netflix.   Credit: NETFLIX/PATTI PERRET

MOVIE “HOME TEAM” (2 stars)

WHERE Streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT’S ABOUT "Home Team" features Kevin James as pro football coach Sean Payton, who,after being hired in 2006, transformed the New Orleans Saints from a losing team into the Super Bowl XLIV champions. That underdog story would have made a great sports drama — that is, if Payton hadn’t later been implicated in "Bountygate," a headline-grabbing scandal in which the NFL accused Saints players of injuring opponents to earn personal bounties ($400 for a "whack," $1,000 for a "cart-off").

Following an investigation, Payton was suspended for the 2012 season — the league’s first-ever suspension of a head coach — and returned the next year. (In January, he announced he was stepping down.)

"Home Team" begins post-scandal, as the disgraced coach packs his bags for Argyle, Tx., where his ex-wife, Beth (Jackie Sandler), lives with their sixth grader, Connor (Tait Blum). Payton is hoping to reconnect with the kid, who just happens to play for his school’s chronically losing football team, the Liberty Christian Warriors. Payton can’t resist giving head coach Troy Lambert (Taylor Lautner) a few pointers — and before long, Payton is once again wearing a whistle and hoping to lead a team to victory.

MY SAY The last few years have seen a mini-trend of what you might call sympathy-for-the-devil movies. The first was 2017’s "I, Tonya," a high-spirited take on the disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie). In 2018, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" cast Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, a forger who fooled the literary world. This year’s "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" saluted the televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) for daring to embrace the gay community.

As redemption stories go, "Home Team" doesn’t quite make the cut. It’s not that Payton is unforgivable; in fact, Long Island native James uses his salt-of-the-earth appeal to quickly get us on the coach’s side. The problem is that "Home Team" is a family film, meant to be watched by kids roughly Connor’s age, and those kids deserve some straight talk from Payton about his mistakes. Instead, "Home Team" skirts the issue and lets its hero off lightly.

That’s too bad, because the movie has its moments. The young Warriors are a motley crew straight out of "The Bad News Bears," and the scandal-tarred Payton sometimes resembles a wholesome version of Burt Reynolds’ Paul Crewe in "The Longest Yard." Rob Schneider gets in a few laughs as Beth’s new husband, Jamie, an emasculated New Ager, while football fans will enjoy the cameos from sportscaster Dan Patrick, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher and others. It’s all breezily directed by Charles and Daniel Kinnane from a script by Chris Titone and Keith Blum.

"Home Team" has a couple of major blind sides. For one, as woebegone as the Warriors are, it’s hard not to feel sorry for opposing teams who aren’t coached by a 30-year professional with a Super Bowl championship ring. (The coach for the Porcupines, played by a memorable Isaiah Mustafa, goes almost insane with glee after winning against Payton). Then there’s the moment when Connor courageously asks his father about the bounties. We’re expecting the heartfelt truth, but Payton’s answer -- "It’s complicated" — barely rises to the level of cop-out.

Maybe it’s foolish to expect more from a Netflix comedy produced by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison company. (Yes, that’s the producer’s wife as Beth; his nephew, Jared Sandler, plays a spacey hotel clerk.) Still, why not tackle notions of wrongdoing and forgiveness head-on? In the end, "Home Team" is a movie with no take-home message.

BOTTOM LINE A true story that shies away from the truth.


Explore Newsday's archives

Newsday has partnered with Newspapers.com to digitize our archives from 1940 through 2009. Today, we look back at Kevin James, whom Newsday named “Long Islander of the Century” on July 26, 2000. Read the whole article here.

Long Islander of the Century: Kevin JamesLong Islander of the Century: Kevin James 26 Jul 2000, Wed Newsday (Nassau Edition) (Hempstead, New York) Newspapers.com

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