Beware movies beginning with the kind of gradually swelling music that even the most craven tearjerkers might save for the second hour. In We Are Marshall, the score goes to work before we even see the tragic 1970 plane crash that killed the Marshall University football team, including coaches and boosters. The film then follows new coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) as he tries to rebuild the program — and a shattered small town.
Marshall is director McG’s attempt to stretch, and he does deserve credit for not turning Marshall’s stadium grass the sickly shade of neon green favored in his wretched music videos. But while the Charlie’s Angels movies matched his aesthetic of flashy shamelessness, here the quasi-tasteful glop makes relative restraint look hollow — a feature-length version of one of those “Footballtown, USA” Coke ads.
McConaughey drawls and whistles cartoonishly, but at least his hillbilly showboating has its own energy, generating workable male-bonding chemistry with a shell-shocked assistant coach (Matthew Fox). They’re the only two characters; everyone else is a walking, talking emotional cue waiting for McG’s highlighter. We’re left with yet another true story where the real-life postscripts are more interesting and moving than what’s on screen.