By Lynn Venhaus

:Believe. In your dreams, in where your heart leads, in your talents and in what you can do as a teammate. That’s the satisfying take-away from “American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story,” which takes us on a remarkable journey from homespun Iowa to a glorious shining moment in Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000.

Obviously, there is more to his life, but for a tidy 1 hour, 52-minute film, this is a worthy timeline. With a real Hollywood ending and a movie-script-like life, the major beats of  Kurt and Brenda Warner’s pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming story has been turned into an inspirational drama that’s more about overcoming adversity and less about football action – but all of it equally compelling.

The NFL two-time MVP and Hall of Fame quarterback went from stocking shelves at a supermarket to becoming an American football star, but that’s not the only thing covered — so is his courtship and marriage to his wife Brenda.

The movie kicks into high gear when an undrafted Kurt is signed by the then-St. Louis Rams, and hometown fans will remember with pride and revisit with glee what happened that miraculous season, when the second-string quarterback lead the Greatest Show on Turf to a 13-3 record, a thrilling playoff run and stunning 23-16 Super Bowl championship victory.

Because we lived through it, that story is unforgettable, and the filmmakers do the St. Louis team’s first title justice.

Both directors Jon Erwin and his brother Andrew Erwin, started out as camera operators, filming the Crimson Tide’s games in Alabama for ESPN, so they have well-honed skills in that regard.

The feel-good aspect of the Warners’ tale about their struggles and how their faith and close-knit family helped them get through the tough times is bona fide, largely due to the skills of Zachary Levi and Anna Paquin. And like the Warners themselves, they are easy to admire.

Levi is best known as the star of TV series “Chuck,” the leading role in “Shazam!” and a Tony nominee for the musical “She Loves Me.” Paquin won an Oscar for best supporting actress at age 11 for 1993’s “The Piano,” and originated the role of Sookie in HBO’s “True Blood” (2008-2014).

This film adaptation could have been cheesy and sappy, but it’s rooted in reality. And you cheer for the couple – especially if you regarded Kurt and Brenda during their exciting years in St. Louis. Traded away, they left in 2004, Kurt eventually played for the Arizona Cardinals, and was part of their first-time Super Bowl appearance in 2009. Now living in Phoenix, they remain involved in local charity work here.

Based on Kurt’s book, “All Things Possible: My Story of Faith, Football and the First Miracle Season,” written along with Michael Silver and published in 2009, the screenplay co-written by Jon Erwin, Jon Gunn, and David Aaron Cohen, who wrote the 2004 film adaptation of “Friday Night Lights,” is as much Brenda’s story as it is Kurt’s.

The former Brenda Meoni served in the Marines and was a divorced mother of two when she met Kurt at a country music bar. Her son Zach, well-played by newcomer Hayden Zaller, had been injured as a baby and was partially blind with some brain damage, and Kurt developed a special relationship with him.

Their sweet love story chronicles how they supported each other through difficult patches and how strong they became together.

Their relatable circumstances tug on the heartstrings as it must, but the film isn’t preachy. It’s better than most people – worried about that approach – will find. The Erwin brothers have made Christian faith-based feature films since 2010, so stories about redemption and the human spirit triumphing are in their wheelhouse. I just wanted it to be believable and not mawkish, and I think it strikes the right balance..

The football storyline brings in Dennis Quaid as Dick Vermeil, and while he’s fine, his make-up and prosthetics are horrible, and Chance Kelly plays Assistant Coach Mike Martz as a villain, which is eye-opening.

Cynics may stay away, but for the most part, St. Louisans who are Warner fans, will embrace it. The Warners’ impact on St. Louis is undeniable, and the movie is a good example of how perseverance sometimes makes things happen.

Zachary Levi as Kurt Warner and Dennis Quaid as Dick Vermeil in American Underdog. Photo Credit: Michael Kubeisy/Lionsgate

And in this case, a movie was made about their lives – which is a testament to the kind of people they are and what they achieved, and the movie makes sure we know they didn’t do it alone.

“American Underdog” is a sports biopic directed by Jon and Andrew Erwin, starring Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin, Dennis Quaid, Chance Kelly and Bruce McGill. Rated PG for some language and thematic elements, it runs 1 hour, 52 minutes. It opened in theatres Dec. 25. Lynn’s Grade: B+.

Cinema St. Louis (CSL) is pleased to announce that the Centerpiece Event of the 30th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) — held Nov. 4-21, 2021 — is “American Underdog,” a Kingdom Story Company production distributed by global content leader Lionsgate (LGF.A, LGF.B) and opening in theaters December 25. Kurt and Brenda Warner, who served as executive producers on the film, will attend and participate in a post-screening Q&A.

“American Underdog” tells the inspirational true story of Kurt Warner (played by Zachary Levi), who went from a stock boy at a grocery store to a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Fame quarterback.

The screening will be held at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8, at the Tivoli Theatre, 6350 Delmar Blvd. Tickets are $50 and go on sale at 9 AM for CSL members and 1 PM for the general public on Friday, Oct. 22, through the CSL website,

St. Louisans need no reminders about Warner’s storied career, which started here with the Rams when he went from essentially unknown backup to starter in 1999 after Trent Green suffered a torn ACL in the preseason. The Rams, of course, won the Super Bowl that season, and Warner and the “Greatest Show on Turf” went on an historic three-year offensive spree that produced a second
Super Bowl appearance.

Later, Warner did it again, taking the perennially woebegone Arizona Cardinals — another franchise familiar to locals — to their first Super Bowl.

Kurt Warner as St Louis Rams Quarterback

The film centers on Warner’s unique story and the years of challenges and setbacks that could have derailed his aspirations to become an NFL player. It is only with the support of his wife, Brenda (played by Anna Paquin), and the encouragement of his family, coaches, and teammates that Warner perseveres and finds the strength to show the world the champion that he already is. “American
Underdog” is an uplifting story that demonstrates that anything is possible when you have faith, family, and determination.

Also starring Dennis Quaid, the film is directed by the Erwin brothers from a screenplay by Jon Erwin & David Aaron Cohen and Jon Gunn, based on the book “All Things Possible” by Kurt Warner and Michael Silver. The producers are Kevin Downes, Jon Erwin, Andrew Erwin, Mar Ciardi, and Daryl Lefever.

To protect the safety and health of patrons, SLIFF will require masks and proof of vaccination at this and all in-person screenings. No concessions will be available. Full details on Covid-19 safety measures are on the Cinema St. Louis website: