Everyone wants to be a winner but not everyone knows how to do it.
In The Underdoggs, Jaycen ‘Two Js’ Jennings (Snoop Dogg) is a retired (and ostracized) former NFL all-star that can’t seem to get his life together. Living alone without many friends, even Jaycen’s agent has grown tired of his selfish antics. After a judge sentences him to community service, Jaycen opts to try his hand at coaching a group of youth from his hometown of Long Beach. Dubbed ‘the Underdoggs’, this unruly and foul-mouthed group of children aren’t interested in his me-first attitude, forcing Jayce to work on himself in order to help these kids and rediscover his love of the game.
Directed by Charles Stone III, The Underdoggs is a goofy football comedy with a script that may fumble at times but still manages to make a play for the endzone. With a solid cast and strong performances by Mike Epps, Snoop and Tika Sumpter, one would expect that this comedy would be a blow-out from the opening kick-off. Unfortunately, the script’s broad strokes at comedy don’t always land. (Although, Epps’ outlandish sidekick Kareem is very much ready to get into the game.)
That’s not to say that Underdoggs isn’t a winner. It just stumbles out of the gate.
Where Underdoggs begins to show some bite is when it begins to go below the surface. Underneath the broad comedy, the film doesn’t just want to tap into what it means to be part of a team. Instead, it wants to lean into what it means to be a better person. In his youth, Jaycen determined that you can’t trust anybody else in his life and it filtered into his game. Suddenly, teammates weren’t necessary. He was a winner and it was his job to prove it every time he was on the field. As a result, other players refused to work with him, leaving him as a man who travelled from team to team in order to secure his (and only his) legacy.
But, even if his attitude affected his game, he also couldn’t leave it on the field.
At home, Jaycen carried the same toxic attitudes. He believed that the world owed him a favour because of his greatness but those who were closest to him didn’t agree. As his personal relationships began to crumble, Jaycen became even more focused on himself. No matter what it took, he was determined to prove to the world that he’s the greatest in every way. But his selfish heart only made things worse, leaving him somewhat of a loner.
Though, as he coaches these youth amidst their troubles, Jaycen begins to see the flaws within himself. It’s these moments where Underdoggs scores. Snoop has always carried himself with a certain laid-back presence but letting him show some vulnerability helps bring his performance Jaycen to life. As Jaycen reframes the way he sees the world (and himself), the film genuinely begins to change. All of a sudden, the brash comedy begins to melt into a story that has something to say about what it takes to win at the game of life. Compassion, humility and hope become the plays that must be learned in order to help these kids cross the endzone. (Even if the film doesn’t really show up on the field until the second half.)
The Underdoggs is available on Amazon Prime on Friday, January 26th, 2024.