'Crooked Arrows' scores with story of underdog American Indian lacrosse team

Posted: May 18, 2012

We call it corn, the Native Americans call it maize. Whatever you call it, there's a ton of it the screenplay of Crooked Arrows.

It's billed as the first movie about lacrosse, the country's fastest-growing sport and also the continent's oldest, played by the six nations of the Iroquois confederacy going back a thousand years or more - a heritage reflected in the underdog scenario that drives Crooked Arrows.

Former Superman Brandon Routh (part Kickapoo, who knew?) plays Joe Logan, a Sunaquat Indian and former lacrosse star who's now a sell-out and a real estate hotshot who wants to sell tribal land to a casino operator. The tribal elders agree, on the condition that Logan coach the tribe's moribund team, part of a spiritual quest to restore Sunaquat pride, and Logan's own neglected heritage.

If you can't see where this is going, you've got your lacrosse helmet on backwards. Crooked Arrows borrows liberally from every sports movie ever made - it's a Remember the Bad News Mighty Ducks, with all of the stock characters - the giant, the chubby guy, the selfish star, the undersized kid, each with his own predictable arc. The movie even has its own Miyagi - a shaman who teaches the teens the history and spiritual discipline behind their ancient game.

But you know what? It mostly works. Crooked Arrows (financed by the Onandaga Nation) finds a personality and a niche in its Native American setting. The Sunaquat team really does become a worthy underdog rooting interest, matched as they are against snooty prep schools, each more wealthy and arrogant than the next.

And Crooked Arrows has something many sports movies forget to include - kids who can really play. The Sunaquat team has authentic Native American players (two play collegiately at Albany) who obviously know and love the game. Director Steve Rash uses them as the centerpiece of crisp, economical action scenes that give the movie punch and convey lacrosse (without too much arcane exposition) as a lively sport that offers the best elements of soccer, football, and hockey.

As for all of that high-fructose maize syrup, it's true there's enough here to give you Type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, who doesn't want to see an underfunded, undersized team of ancestor-honoring Indians beat the tar out of a private, borderline-fascist prep school? Coached, incidentally, by actual Johns Hopkins coach Jamison Koesterer - the movie is full of lacrosse-culture cameos, for the true geek.


Crooked Arrows *** (out of four stars)

Directed by Steve Rash. With Brandon Routh, Crystal Allen, Chelsea Ricketts, and Jamison Koesterer. Distributed by Branded/Peck Entertainment.

Running time: 1 hours, 40 mins.

Parent's guide: PG (some suggestive references)

Playing at: AMC Loews Cherry Hill


Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or thompsg@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at www.philly.com/keepitreel.

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