American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"The Program" celebrates big-time college football at the same time it attacks it. The team at Eastern State, under the gun from alumni who aren't happy with two losing seasons, makes a courageous comeback while at the same time the star quarterback goes into rehab, a defensive hero ruins his leg, another player is caught in a cheating scandal, and a lineman named Bud Lite pumps steroids into his veins. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs, I guess.
The movie begins with what seems to be solid insider knowledge about how football is played in the big collegiate leagues. James Caan plays Coach Winters, a realist who sometimes perhaps wishes he could be more ethical than circumstances permit. It's his job to hold together a team that's under great moral, physical, romantic and academic pressure - and the film provides one player to illustrate each of those problems.
The quarterback (Craig Sheffer) is a self-destructive alcoholic whose father is also a drunk who once played for ESU. Under enormous pressure as a Heisman Trophy contender, he gets loaded and pulls suicidal stunts, while his girlfriend (Kristy Swanson) despairs.
Meanwhile, a talented freshman named Darnell Jefferson (Omar Epps) enrolls, seduced on campus by the charms of a student beauty named Autumn (Halle Berry), who turns out to be dating Darnell's competitor for the halfback position. His grades are lousy, but he talks her into being his tutor, causing the other halfback, of course, to hate him.