Has The Rock ever had an uncertain moment in his life? If so, he's never done anything to suggest it, and that's part of his undeniable charisma as a screen performer. Here's a guy who doesn't know the neuroses and weakness that grip the rest of humanity, and who will most assuredly be taking care of business. The Rock has yet to appear in a good movie—though the passable new Gridiron Gang comes close enough—but his personal magnetism keeps him oddly immune to his films' failings, because his presence is as constant and unchanging as death and taxes. During one of Gridiron Gang's emotional moments, he's asked to shed a few tears, but even those seem most likely generated by a production assistant holding an eyedropper just above the frame. The Rock cares, but he doesn't cry.
Based on a true story, Gridiron Gang seems like a clichéd, formulaic Hollywood version of the truth until documentary footage at the end makes it look as if real life followed the script. At a Malibu juvenile-detention facility called Camp Kilpatrick, where the recidivism rate for inmates sits at a depressing 75 percent, probation officer The Rock and his assistant Xzibit search for a creative way to inspire their charges to keep out of trouble. Once a gifted football talent, The Rock floats the radical idea of creating a team out of the ragtag Kilpatrick troublemakers, believing that it will instill confidence and discipline in kids who see themselves as losers. And in a few cases, the team concept will force them to rethink the gang loyalties holding them in an endless cycle of retaliation.
Perhaps because the filmmakers needed to fill out an entire team, Gridiron Gang's players seem like a collection of stock characters taken from other underdog sports movies: The fat kid who can't drop and give the coach one, much less 20; the 90-pound weakling who develops thick skin through brutalization; the troubled superstar who needs (and gets) a serious attitude adjustment; and so on. None of their stories are particularly resonant, but the film is really about a grand social experiment gone right, and it succeeds well enough on that front, even while it isn't that convincing in the particulars. One thing's for certain: If The Rock could clone himself to appear in juvenile halls across the country, the recidivism rate would get body-slammed within a few weeks.