The Underdoggs Review | Fourth and Twenty

by Andrew Parker

As basic of a sports comedy as you can get, The Underdoggs tries hard to be funny, but a lack of ingenuity holds it back at every turn. Adhering as closely as it can to the formula established by the likes of The Bad News Bears and The Mighty Ducks (the latter of which gets openly name checked at one point, in one of the movie’s only truly funny dialogue exchanges), The Underdoggs is just another story of a broken dude forced by circumstance into coaching a crappy kids team. You know the drill, and The Underdoggs certainly runs those formations well enough, but outside of the aggressive use of vulgarity and a bunch of weed and sex gags, it adds nothing to the genre. It’s not unwatchable if you’re into this sort of thing, but it’s definitely disposable and forgettable.

Snoop Dogg stars as Jaycen “Two Js” Jennings (because, you know, weed), a washed up wide receiver who was never known for being much of a team player. Now kicking back at his mansion and trying to get his self-aggrandizing podcast off the ground, Jaycen has become nothing more than a footnote in football history and a joke that commentators love to poke fun at. One day, following an altercation with a football legend, Jennings crashes his car and is forced into performing acts of community service. He starts off picking up garbage at a local park in his native Long Beach (because, you know, Snoop), and notices a rag-tag bunch of pee wee players in need of a coach. His interest in mentoring the team is piqued on two fronts. First, he knows that coaching the team could bring him the good PR he needs to resurrect his status as a public figure. Second, the mom (Tika Sumpter) of the team’s best player, is his old high school crush.

The Underdoggs – unsubtly brought to us by the Raising Cane’s chicken finger chain – is a perfect reflection of its main character. It’s stuck in the 90s and focused on recreating past glories instead of forming new ideas. It’s predicated on the idea that the formula is so solid that it shouldn’t be messed with at all. It also goes all in on the belief that kids cursing like sailors and doing horribly inappropriate things is funny. And, yeah, it is kinda funny at times, simply because young actors often revel in the chance to crush a funny line reading out of the park. After you hear someone call another person a “bitch ass punk ass bitch” the twelfth time, that kind of diss tends to lose all meaning, if it even had any to begin with. 

Outside of a moment of horrendous, ill advised CGI that should’ve been cut from the movie in favour of literally anything else, director Charles Stone III (Drumline, Paid in Full) has made The Underdoggs into a competently stylish looking movie that viewers can set a watch to. The team will start off terrible. Then the kids will learn how to play better and embrace their own individual talents. Jaycen will learn how to be a better person, but will inevitably let the team down in their greatest moment of need. There will be cameos aplenty from familiar faces in the world of football. The big showdown between Jaycen’s squad and the unstoppable champions coached by the former player’s biggest detractor (Andrew Schulz) is inevitable. Anything that you can guess will happen in the first ten minutes of The Underdoggs will happen by the end of the movie, leading to something that’s not necessarily awful, but a slog that feels longer than it should.

The Underdoggs caters to Snoop’s talents, and the multi-hyphenate rapper deserves a lot of credit for anchoring this in a charming way. Even if the film goes out of its way to give him chip-shot jokes (in the first few minutes there’s a nod to his unlikely bff Martha Stewart and he gets to make a Harold and Kumar reference directly to Kal Penn, playing Jaycen’s agent), Snoop gives his all to the cause. His best moments come whenever he’s allowed to engage in some relaxed banter with his younger co-stars or bounce ideas off his closest on-screen sidekick, played by Mike Epps as a former classmate and weed dealer turned stalker and booster. Snoop, as evidenced in the film’s closing credits, also has a genuine love for youth football, and his participation here is nothing if not earnest. (Far less effective are scenes where Snoop has to act opposite George Lopez, who plays Jaycen’s high school coach. Lopez looks so disinterested and checked out that every shot of him might as well be of him halfheartedly reading lines off the page while seated next to a pool.)

But good will and a moderate amount of energy isn’t enough to make The Underdoggs into a genre classic, or even a halfway decent distraction. If you never found the idea of kids cursing funny, or the novelty of such a thing wears off for you pretty quickly, The Underdoggs isn’t for you. Really, it’s only for kids whose parents allow them to watch R-rated movies or those who’ll turn it on in secret while no one’s watching. Saying The Underdoggs is offensive because it’s raunchy isn’t much of an argument. You have to approach these things for what they are, rather than what you might want them to be. And in this case, all everyone is left with is a familiar feeling movie that isn’t very good.

The Underdoggs is available to stream on Prime Video starting Friday, January 26, 2024.

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