Faith and football: This subpar sports drama makes it clear that the two still go together in Texas. And Under the Stadium Lights -- which could be in the running to be the churchiest sports movie ever made -- depicts religion not as a cure-all but as a way to rise above it all. No matter whether scenes take place in church, locker rooms, or rallies, every opportunity is seized to pile on preachy motivational speeches that incorporate lines of scripture. This may be the first film in which a team chaplain claims responsibility for a winning season, as well as for singlehandedly protecting an entire city. And, of course, he's White, which makes this film the very definition of a White savior story, a situation that isn't helped by the fact that it depicts teens of color dealing with issues stereotypically associated with underserved communities (gangs, addiction, etc.). But there is a clearly positive message about the idea that we can't just live our own lives while turning a blind eye to the struggles of our friends, teammates, and classmates. We don't have to solve their problems; we just need to be there to support them, to listen, and to question iffy decisions before they're made. And, hey, if that's what led Abilene High School to win the state championship, then God bless.
Director Todd Randall's techniques are nontraditional, which is sort of a nice way to say "inexperienced." That's not always bad: Being new can bring fresh creativity, like showing weeks of game prep not just in montages or a general speeding-up, but in zippy bursts of movements. Filming all over Abilene and using locals as extras was another smart (and cheap!) way to highlight an underrepresented part of America. There's also much to be gleaned here in how to finance an indie through using sponsorships that are baked into the TV broadcast of the football games. And, hoo boy, are there a lot of them. Using what appears to be real footage of the players' real games, Under the Stadium Lights has a lot of just watching football highlights. Even for fans of football or fellowship, this small-town success story fumbles at the first possession.