Home Team is roughly as awful a film as Sean Payton seems to be a human based on this deflective vanity project.
Sean Payton, head coach of the New Orleans Saints until a few days ago, lead the NFL team to their first-ever Super Bowl win in 2010. Not long after, it was discovered that Payton was complicit in a nefarious practice wherein Saints’ players were awarded with kickbacks for injuring opposing players. The scandal, known as Bountygate, rocked the NFL, resulting in Payton being barred from coaching professional football for the 2012 season. New comedy Home Team follows Payton during that tumultuous year away from the NFL, in which he traveled to Texas to help coach his estranged son’s Pop Warner football team. Yes, you read that correctly: this is indeed a comedy, and from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company, no less. It should come as no surprise that Payton himself was heavily involved in both the conception and execution of this particular film, one that serves as an offensive piece of hagiography for a man that, according to most measures, is a reprehensible dirtbag. But in the world of Home Team, Sean Payton, as played by Kevin James, is simply a man who deeply understands and respects the sanctity of football. It’s certainly not his fault that he is surrounded by buffoons who see it as mere game and not a way of life.
That remarkably dubious framework in place, let’s take a moment to delve into the various ways this film — which, again, is based on a true story — portrays real-life individuals in comparison to Payton. The head coach of the Texas Pop Warner team the Warriors, played by Taylor Lautner, is a former college football player who is apparently so dumb that he is unable to realize that he is holding his playbook upside-down. Then, we have the assistant coach (Gary Valentine), a sloppy drunk who is continuously shown on the sidelines nursing an adult beverage in a water bottle and who rides a bicycle everywhere because of numerous DUIs. Payton’s ex-wife is married to an ineffectual, New Age loser with a man-bun who spins yarns of making out with various men at bath houses and drug-fueled bacchanals. (Adding insult to injury, he is played by Rob Schneider). At one point, a single mom of one of the players throws herself at Payton because he’s apparently just at that level of Adonis, the “joke” being that she is overweight and has a healthy sexual appetite. (Quick time-out to once more stress that Sean Payton himself had a hand in the making of this film.) His illegal deeds are quickly glossed over in the movie’s opening moments, with his young son being the only individual to address the question outright near the midpoint. Payton’s — or should we say, James’ — response: “It’s complicated.” Here’s the thing though; it’s not.
Home Team somehow wants to be a both a heartwarming story of personal redemption and your average, run-of-the mill underdog sports story, but the man at its center refuses to take responsibility for his actions, making anything resembling character growth or even extratextual contrition a laughable prospect. There’s some nonsense near film’s end where Payton is accused of taking the big championship game too seriously, resulting in his son confronting him about how the entire season was simply a way for him to save face in front of the incessant news cameras. His son is, of course, correct, which results in James contorting his face in a way that one assumes is meant to reflect clarity and enlightenment, when in reality it seems like nothing more than a pathetic excuse for the team’s (**spoiler alert, but honestly who cares) resulting loss. You see, Payton isn’t a bad coach; he just wanted these kids to have some fun. Isn’t he amazing? Littered amidst all this claptrap are the usual Happy Madison gags, including severe bouts of projectile vomiting and weird side characters who talk way too sexually around a group of kids. James, meanwhile, is an ineffectual nothing in the lead role, presumably because he can make neither heads nor tails of how to play this particular bum. (On a side note, the sweet visors he sports throughout the film only accentuate his unseemly hair plugs; maybe Ben Affleck has some tips). To top it all off, the film ends with the real-life Payton popping up in a cameo as a janitor who says to James’ Payton, “I’m glad you’re back; the team sucked without you.” And with that, Home Team wraps as one of the legitimately worst films this critic has ever had the displeasure of viewing. The only potential silver lining to its existence is the role it may have played in shaming Payton into retirement this very week.