Muddled, poorly paced, and saddled with an atrocious English dub, The Unbeatables is a sloppy, bargain-bin effort.
This is a tricky one to review, folks. See, what the ads have been hiding is the fact that The Unbeatables – incidentally, my spell-checker would like the head of whoever came up with and signed off on that name – is actually a foreign film. Argentinian, to be exact, by the name of Futbolín (in Spain) or Metegol (in Latin America), and the version that’s been released in UK cinemas this weekend is a UK-specific dub. This means that it makes it harder for me to confidently assign blame for this movie. How much of it is the fault of the original film itself? How much is the fault of the script used for the dub? Can I really call the animation cheap-looking when the film is actually the most expensive Argentinian film ever made? Stuff like that.
I mean, make no mistake, this is a bad film and I am still confident enough in my reasons for why it is so bad that I am going to spend the next 10-or-so paragraphs bashing it relentlessly, but it shall be done with a permanent tinge of regret. Of uncertainty, maybe a bit of guilt. Much like Khumba: A Zebra’s Tale from earlier in the year, The Unbeatables is at least trying which makes it failing and my writing of this resultant negative review an act that causes me a tiny bit of sadness. It’s not The Nut Job, a film that truly deserves the bile that I spewed its way for it not once trying, is what I’m getting at. The Unbeatables – OK, seriously, that name is terrible and I can’t believe it got through an entire company of people – is clearly trying… one of its biggest problems, though, is that it’s never clear as to what exactly it’s trying to be, besides a movie.
Our plot concerns Amadeo (Rupert Grint), a boy who lives in a tiny village, nurses a crush on Laura (Eve Ponsbury), and whose only special talent in life is that he is a whiz at table football. One day, he beats the town bully at a game which causes the bully, who is skilled at actual football, to fly into a fit and swear vengeance upon the town because… he’s a jerk, I guess? Anyways, years pass, Laura has become friends with Amadeo (but not his girlfriend like I thought she was for a good hour and ten of the film’s run-time) whose standing in life hasn’t really changed, he still spends his evenings hanging out in the bar playing foosball and reliving the night he beat the bully. Then the bully returns, now a world-famous footballer rechristened Flash (Anthony Head… that’s not a joke, they really did cast Anthony Head in this role), buys the deed to the village from the mayor and plans to tear it down because… he’s a jerk, I guess? He takes Amadeo’s foosball table from him (he desperately wants the players on it for really, really stupid reasons), “kidnaps” Laura, and leaves the village ready for destruction. But just as Amadeo is on the edge of despair, his foosball players reveal themselves to be living creatures and he sets off to rescue Laura, the other foosball players and the village from Flash.
So, here’s the thing, this film seems permanently confused about what it wants to be. From that description, one gets the feeling that it’s supposed to be about Amadeo getting over that one night, moving on with his life and leaving his obsession behind. It’s an idea the film itself seems to believe in to begin with, as well, the foosball players are all very selfish, self-centred twits who operate on a sexist “bros-before-hos” mantra with Amadeo, like this is all set-up for both their character developments and Amadeo realising that he should move on with his life. Except nothing ever comes of that. It’s not even one of those things where it’s clearly not building to anything, I get the feeling that this stuff was actually planned but then the ending of the arc was literally just cut out at some point in a later draft and nobody went back and rewrote the rest of the film to remove its groundwork. So there’s all this build-up that just stops.
And as for the foosball guys… you honestly could just cut them from the film and nothing would be different. Despite being the central gimmick for the film, they’re actually rather pointless in its overall picture. They only interact with each other and Amadeo, they don’t actually play in the final game (Amadeo recruits some of the village people for that), and I thought they might have been setting up a twist where it turned out he just imagined them being alive as a way for him to work up the confidence to be the hero or something but nope. The end of the film rolls around and no such twist occurs. I think I’d actually prefer that scenario, in all honesty, as their involvement in the final game is negligible at best and I feel that explaining away their bigger touches in it as accidents or what have you would have been much better for its moral about the power of football. Besides, it’s not like we’d end up losing some world-class characters or anything, the extent of their characterisations are the funny voice that they’re given and the borderline racist or just plain stereotypes they’re saddled with.
These are just two of the ways in which the film is weirdly muddled and uncertain – I haven’t even mentioned Laura; prior to the final game, there’s a recruitment montage where they come up a player short and it seems like they’re going to put Laura in, but then they just get a random old woman with a moustache. It all reeks of a script and story-structure that’s several drafts away from being complete, or one that changed halfway through, or one that mistakenly believed that all animated films need to be aimed at kids in some way; especially odd seeing as co-writer and director Juan José Campanella’s last film was the Academy Award-winning The Secret In My Eyes. As a narrative, it’s all over the place. Tonally, it’s all over the place; Flash, in particular, should be a funny smarmy villain who’s only really effective on the pitch, and he kind of is, but then he attempts to sexually assault Laura (you know, good clean family fun) before going right back to being simpering, petty and ineffectual whenever a football isn’t involved. Pacing is a mess, too, this is a film that lasts over 100 minutes yet doesn’t actually get to the really obvious point for a full hour. In place of narrative momentum, we get extended sequences devoted to the foosball players who, as previously established, are completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and who aren’t funny enough to make up for that fact. Actually, let me correct that, they’re not funny period.
Animation-wise… I feel bad saying this, again I really do because a lot of money was sunk into this thing relative to the country, but this one looks bad. It gets the detail of the foosball players excellently, scuff marks and worn colours and just general decay are very well displayed, but everything else is poor. Character designs are both distinctive (primarily lanky, angular and honestly not-all-that pretty) and derivative (which is what happens when you come up with about three or four human designs and practically palette-swap the rest), animation is frequently jerky which would work great for the foosball players except that they instead move too smoothly, motion-blur is excessively deployed to hide corner cutting in the animation, the size and proportion of various objects and characters in relation to one another are rarely consistent, lighting and shadows aren’t convincing (bits of characters that are supposed to be shaded are frequently just plain black), shot geography often makes no sense… I know that everyone was clearly trying their best, but it pains me to say that their best simply wasn’t good enough. This is not a good-looking movie.
The dub, meanwhile, is one of the worst I have come across. Re-written and translated lines often don’t actually match mouth movements, there are many, many instances where there will be great pauses in the dialogue but the mouth will keep moving or the voice actor will rush to deliver the rest of the line. Localisation, what little there is, often makes reference to English football teams despite the film clearly taking place in an Argentinian village. And as for the performances? Hoo, boy. Flat, lifeless, wildly mis-delivered, poorly directed, occasionally bordering on unlistenable… The best performance, otherwise known as the only decent one, is Jonathan Pearce who plays an off-screen commentator in the final game and, despite this being a likely low-paying dub job for a film that nobody will remember in this country after this opening weekend, acts like he’s commentating on a real football match. It’s full of life, energy, passion, the work of a man either desperately trying to will some of this film to work or a man who just cannot half-ass a job that requires him speaking into a microphone. No exaggeration: everyone else is terrible, he is great.
The Unbeatables comes alive once and that’s for the final game. It contains the one genuinely funny gag in the entire run-time, its one successful play for heart and is a decent love-letter to football. It’s extremely generic, including its outcome which, despite attempting a mild subversion, will surprise no-one who has seen their share of underdog stories, but it does eventually work. For those keeping track, that’s a total of five minutes out of 100-odd where the film becomes watchable or engaging. The rest of the time, it is endlessly dull above all else. I can’t even see kids finding it particularly funny or entertaining, unless they’re the kind that like funny voices and borderline racist stereotypes (if anyone else was in the screen, I’d tell you what they thought, but there wasn’t anyone else). A lot of effort has been put into The Unbeatables, enough to make me feel like I’m kicking a puppy to death as I type out each one of these words, but it can’t disguise the fact that, in a year that has seen no shortage of dreadful animated films, this is a film that lands right near the bottom of the year’s animated output. It’s so bad that I can practically guarantee that even seeing it in its native language, where I imagine its cast aren’t so clearly phoning it in, would have me saying the exact same things.
There are a million better animated films on the market, folks, and they all deserve your time more than The Unbeatables does.