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Notes from the back row

Sports, dreams and losing your teeth

Let’s start by saying I’m not a big fan of football. For a bunch of big tough athletes they sure fight like sissies and spend entirely too much time patting each other on the ass. I like zombies and ninjas and Angelina Jolie. In fact, this time of year when football is on TV at the restaurant I work in, I’d actually rather work than watch it. However, occasionally a decent football movie comes along and it’s tolerable, sometimes even entertaining. Like Rudy, or The Waterboy , or Friday Night Lights , which opens Friday at the Village 8.

Based on a true story, Friday Night Lights recounts the 1988 football season of the Odessa Permian Panthers, a small-town high school football team under great pressure win the Texas State Championship. Sounds pretty standard right? It is, complete with the star running back (who is illiterate), the emotional quarterback, the token Latino, the all-black, thug-like opposition team and the back-up running back who gets his chance. Billie Bob Thorton plays the wise coach who’s under the most pressure of all: "For Sale" signs appear on his front lawn the morning after a loss.

But it isn’t that bad. The characters aren’t total cookie cutter clichés and director Peter Berg ( The Rundown) does a pretty bang-up job. He gives all the daytime scenes a grainy, washed-out look that just makes the action that much more vivid under those Friday Night lights. As well, he shoots the whole film handheld and with such attention to detail and action that it seems awfully arty for a sports movie.

That’s a good thing considering it’s actually not that pleasant of an experience watching a town full of losers hang all their hopes and problems on a bunch of 17-year-old kids because there’s nothing else worth getting excited about in their drab, miserable, small-town American lives. The fact that this is a true story makes it all the more depressing, yet somehow, against my will, I liked Friday Night Lights more than I ever thought I would. It’s pretty good for a football movie. Too bad it’s about winning and losing and not about how you play the game. Aren’t sports supposed to be fun?

Speaking of fun, what I’d really enjoy is to see a football team kick the crap out of a bunch of basketball players, then square off against a rugby team with the winner of that testing their metal against whichever hockey team finishes last in the regular season. Whoever survives that rumble (and my money’s on the hockey players) gets to scrap it out with a group of Scottish soccer hooligans. Now that’s real sporting entertainment; screw the Olympics and new school ski contests. But those kinds of dreams are like run-on sentences; they usually get shattered before running their course.

Speaking of dreams, you ever have that one where your teeth start falling out and rolling around in your mouth? Almost like boulders grinding and clanging off each other in a cement mixer? It’s supposedly indicative of sexual frustration or a vulnerable self-image or some crapola like that but all I know is it’s one of the most unnerving dreams out there. It sucks more than dreaming a wolverine is chewing on your leg. It sucks more than calling your new girlfriend the wrong name in bed. In fact, the losing-your-teeth dream sucks almost as much as the new Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifa movie Taxi , also opening this Friday.

At a glance, Taxi looks pretty good: Superhot chick bank robbers, fast cars, a sissy cop bumbling around, and Jennifer Esposito (who steals the show). In fact Taxi is almost total garbage. Jimmy Fallon proves that while it may be easy to do a bunch of coke and be funny in a metro-sexual way for three minutes on Saturday Night Live, it takes a bit more gusto to make it through a feature movie. Even opposite Queen Latifa, who proves she either gets really bad scripts sent her way ( Bringing Down the House) or that her acting range is limited to the same old smug, abrasive jive talker we always see her play. Either way, this film is just not funny. It’s an action/comedy with not much action and even less comedy.

And somebody should take director Tim Storr ( Barbershop) out back and curb stomp him for the piss-poor stunt double sequences and obviously bluescreening of action in this crap-fest. Not a lot of pride in one’s work on display here.

The good news is that Shaun of the Dead , the zombie/comedy I’ve been waiting for is finally here and now that rent is paid I can afford a bag of dream-annihilator and keep my goddamn teeth in my mouth when I sleep.

At Village 8 Oct. 8-14: Friday Night Lights; Taxi; Shaun of the Dead; Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow; Shark Tale; Wimbledon; The Forgotten; Ladder 49.

At Rainbow Theatre Oct. 8-14: Hero.