Although it adheres to the tried-and-true sports-movie formula of an underdog team striving to overcome their limitations to become winners, Crooked Arrows lacks captivating emotional momentum. The producers cast real Native American lacrosse players for authenticity’s sake, but the movie suffers from their inexperienced acting. To boot, Brandon Routh, as coach Joe Logan, may be physically believable as an ex-athlete now in charge of reinvigorating a reservation high school team, but his countenance lacks expression of feeling, which is strange for a character with something to prove.
Like its obvious inspirations, The Mighty Ducks and Cool Runnings, Crooked Arrows is an easily digestible family entertainment. The filmmakers see lacrosse-playing Native Americans as attention-grabbing as bobsledding Jamaicans, but if Crooked Arrows had some of the charm and warmth of those films it could have been memorable beyond its subject matter alone. However, because the story is from the perspective of the Native Americans, the historical and cultural significance of lacrosse—a sport that Europeans adopted from Native Americans—is enhanced, giving the poorly funded team’s games against WASP-y prep schools some tension and meaning beyond characters’ own desires to win for the sake of winning. Notably, the movie also isn’t just paying lip service here: In an act of deference, the production was overseen by the Onondaga nation and, it’s worth mentioning, Routh is part Native American.
Like Routh’s mixed-race coach, who was raised as a Native American, but became a prep-school lacrosse player and business man, Crooked Arrows is a blend of external forces and interests: capitalism (Reebok sponsors the team, Joe runs a local casino), Native Americanisms (the lacrosse sticks are made from ancient trees, a reoccurring bald eagle signifies the spirit of Joe’s deceased mother), pop culture (Chumbawamba is heard over a montage of the team playing). This vision is courtesy of Steve Rash, the helmer of the straight-to-video sequels to Bring It On, tolerably directing a movie about two underrepresented subjects, lacrosse and Native Americans, he admittedly didn’t know anything about prior to production, from a script that has a tribal mentor from the fictional Sunaquot nation pay homage to Disney’s modern media empire when he tells the young lacrosse players in training, “I watch ESPN on my iPod.”