Oliver Stone's new football film is called Any Given Sunday, though a better tide might have been Sacking Private Ryan. For it looks like war and even opens with the athletic equivalent of Steven Spielberg's storming-of-Normandy goregasm: The audience sees, in a span of minutes, one player projectile-vomiting, another coughing up blood, and a third enduring a cataclysmic episode on the toilet. The NFL prudently declined to lend its name and logos to the man responsible for Natural Born Killers, but that hardly proves a hindrance. Because the film is unofficial, it is freed to be orificial. So, for instance, linebacker Luther Lavay ( Lawrence Taylor) stands over a sacked quarterback, lifts a leg and pretends to use him as a dog would a fire hydrant. Given the pharmaceutical potency of Taylor's urine over the years, this is surely the most menacing scene in Sunday.
At first glance the director of The Doors has given us an NFL on acid. Or rather, on the Vicodin, Benzedrine and Demerol that every player in the film seems to be juiced up on. "We need to turn up the volume!" screams Miami Sharks quarterback Cap Rooney ( Dennis Quaid), demanding a higher drug dosage to dull the pain of a ruptured disk. The film's fictional football league, likewise, aspires to be a louder version of the NFL. From the grotesquerie of team uniforms to the depravity of team owners, no turn goes un-Stoned. The results are often more satisfying than real life—the NFL on acid beats the NFL on Fox.
But as the film goes on (and on), it really does become difficult to tell the difference. One peripheral character, for instance, is indistinguishable from Fox sports talk show host Jim Rome. From his name—Jack Rose—to his goatee to his T-shirt-and-suit-coat ensemble, the character (played by John C. McGinley) transparently is Rome, as when he says to a black athlete on his show, "Your smack is so fresh! Give me a pound!" then desperately proffers his knuckles for a fist bump. Instantly, the audience knows that Rose/Rome will get what's coming to him.
The fall of Rome, the name Jack Rose (Jack and Rose were the tragic heroes of Titanic): Look too closely and you'll see all kinds of apocalyptic signposts in Sunday. Which is as it should be. The film opens a week after one NFL player was found hiding in the trunk of a friend's car after being charged with the murder of his pregnant girlfriend and after another was arrested for burglarizing his neighbor's home while sidelined with a broken leg. As the odometer clicks over to 2000, real life is becoming impossible to trump, and the best Stone can strive for is the occasional tie: Thus the Fort Lauderdale home of Rooney is the real-life estate of Dan Marino.
More often, though, reality wins in a blowout. One of Stone's end zone dances, in which a player pretends to throw a hand grenade, looks innocent compared to the NFL's throat slash. Indeed, the real-life Jim Rome got his comeuppance when Jim Everett attacked him on the air.
That's the difficulty in making a sports movie: One evening's SportsCenter is bound to contain more absurdities than any month of Sundays. Malcolm Muggeridge, editor of me British satirical magazine Punch, observed 40 years ago that the 20th century was an age beyond satire. "There is nothing you can imagine, no matter how ludicrous, that will not promptly be enacted before your very eyes," he said, "probably by someone well-known."
It's astonishing, really, what Stone has done with his Sunday, bloody Sunday: The director of Platoon, the man who wrote Scar-face, the perpetrator of Natural Born Killers has created a violent, graphic, scatological league. And still it's a sanitized version of the venal real thing.