American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday'' is a smart sports movie almost swamped by production overkill. The movie alternates sharp and observant dramatic scenes with MTV-style montages and incomprehensible sports footage. It's a miracle the underlying story survives, but it does.
The story's expose of pro football will not come as news to anyone who follows the game. We learn that veteran quarterbacks sometimes doubt themselves, that injured players take risks to keep playing, that team doctors let them, that overnight stardom can turn a green kid into a jerk, that ESPN personalities are self-promoters, that owners' wives drink, that their daughters think they know all about football and that coaches practice quiet wisdom in the midst of despair. We are also reminded that all big games are settled with a crucial play in the closing seconds.
These insights are not startling, but Stone and his actors give them a human face, and the film's dialogue scenes are effective. Al Pacino, comfortable and convincing as Tony D'Amato, a raspy-voiced curmudgeon, tries to coach the Miami Sharks past a losing streak and into the playoffs, and the movie surrounds him with first-rate performances. We're reminded that very little movie material is original until actors transform it from cliches into particulars.
Jamie Foxx joins Pacino in most of the heavy lifting, as Willie Beamen, a third-string quarterback in a game where the two guys above him have been carried off on stretchers. He's so nervous, he throws up in the huddle ("that's a first,'' D'Amato observes), but then catches fire and becomes an overnight sensation. In a broken-field role that requires him to be unsure and vulnerable, then cocky and insufferable, then political, then repentant, Foxx doesn't step wrong.