Review: Champions


Marcus Marakovich (Woody Harrelson) has a temper and an ambition to be a basketball coach in the NBA. After a televised altercation with a minor-league head coach during a game, he gets drunk, plows into a police car and loses his job. He is given a choice of jail time or community service to coach players with intellectual disabilities. In the same time-frame, in his careening, irresponsible, self-serving lifestyle, he has a one-nighter with Alex (Katlin Olson), who, coincidentally, turns out to be the older sister of one of the players on his new team.

But the real story here is the star power of the team. Johnny (Kevin Iannucci), who plays Alex’s brother, has Down Syndrome. He exhibits a range of emotions: friendliness, enthusiasm, frustration, disappointment and exhilaration. His excellent delivery and depth, along with the surly comedic power of Madison Tevlin, a girl on the team (I have been waiting for this inclusion!), helps make this movie believable and entertaining as Markovich prepares them for the Special Olympics finals in Winnipeg.

Some of the players have odd antics and awkward agility. One will only shoot backwards and another, brain damaged from a drunk driver, won’t play on Marakovich’s team at all. The players pose many challenges for the coach, but the most unhappy person in the film is Marakovich. We see this and then ponder over who has the truly greatest challenge.

Woody Harrelson’s choice of film work is impressive. He seems to choose his roles not for the money or potential award, but for something he believes in. He narrated “Kiss the Ground” in 2020, giving simple, practical ways to halt desertification and help affect a reverse to global warming.

In “Triangle of Sadness,” he was the captain of a ship in trouble, yelling to passengers over the loudspeaker of a $150 million luxury yacht: “We all know you don’t pay your fair share of taxes. While you are swimming in abundance the rest of the world is drowning in misery!”

Each movie has a social insight that far transcends its literal story. His unassuming character can turn a potentially boring sermon into a thought-provoking challenge to the status quo. “Champions,” about an assistant basketball coach sentenced to public service, is that kind of transformative role that allows Harrelson’s unique, unassuming ambivalence to sell more than a movie ticket.

In addition, the director of “Champions,” Bobby Farrelly (“Dumb and Dumber” and “Green Book”) and his brother, Peter Farrelly, received the Morton E. Ruderman Award for Inclusion of People with Disabilities in 2020. Like Harrelson, they take their social justice positions to heart and walk their talk.


Director: Bobby Farrelly
Writers: Mark Rizzo (screenplay), Javier Fesser and David Marqués (writers of Spanish film “Campeones” on which “Champions” is based)

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson, Kevin Iannucci, Madison Tevlin, Ernie Hudson, Joshua Felder, Cheech Marin, James Day Keith, Alex Hintz, Bradley Edens, and others

Release: March 10, 2023
“Champions” is currently streaming on Peacock TV or is available for pay-for-view on Prime Video, Redbox, Vudu, Apple TV or ROW8 on your Roku device.

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