Good intentions run smack into self-indulgence in “MVP,” a slack, sentimental, cliche-and-stereotype-stuffed drama from activist, charitable foundation founder, Green Beret vet and actor Nate Boyer.Boyer directed, co-wrote and stars in this story of a homeless Marine who meets a star wide receiver (Mo McRae) just as the footballer’s career has ended. They collide, clash and eventually connect over the commonalities of their experiences. Although the script takes pains to have a character dismiss any “ballfields and battlefields” analogy, the male bonding here stems from the two worlds having a shared “camaraderie, purpose and pride.”
The larger theme is sharing the rough time a lot of combat veterans are having, generating sympathy for their plight and looking for solutions via outreach and acceptance, making this a sort of filmed ad for the MVP Foundation that Boyer and Fox sportscaster Jay Glazer set up a few years back.But you can see the higher purpose of a project and still have “notes” about the movie.Boyer stars as Zephyr, “Z,” a troubled ex-Marine living in a shelter in Hollywood, jogging in camo and backpack to his job as a security guard at a gated community in the Hollywood Hills. That’s how he meets Will Phillips (McRae), on “Willy Phil” or “Will-the-Thrill’s” worst day.
The 11-year veteran wide receiver has just been cut, involuntarily retired. The shock of that news, the fact that he can’t even get to that day’s game at the stadium to get his face out there and start the hunt for TV work because he’s never had to find his own parking space for his baller’s Humvee, sends Will on a bender.
Zephyr fireman carries the so-drunk-he-peed-himself jock home, and the jock wants to say “Thanks” the next day. That’s how he finds the “barracks” run by Vietnam vet Jim (Dan Lauria of “The Wonder Years”) and that’s how he insults Z by offering him a “tip” for “your service.” “MVP” tracks that uncertain introduction through each man’s trials — Z trying to keep it together, despite Marines all around him ending their lives by suicide, trying to pay back an addict comrade (Shawn Vance) who “took a bullet” for him, maybe opening up to a cute age-appropriate waitress of Middle Eastern descent (Dina Shihabi) and Will struggling to figure out “the next thing” after football and the new shape of his life with his wife (Christina Ochoa) and daughter.
It’s through the often-touchy meetings between the vet and the baller that their shared values come up, and through Will, we experience the outsider’s view of the crisis in veterans’ mental health care. Hanging over everything are Will’s “Hail Mary” hopes of TV sports stardo and Z’s fraught and armed (with a pistol) mental state, “Most of my ‘post traumatic stress’ is from a lack of traumatic stress.”
Boyer’s a perfectly passable actor, if not leading man material. He looks like a young Dylan Walsh. But as a producer, he should have had the good sense to hire a director for “MVP,” someone who could say, “OK, bro, that’s enough close-ups of you.” As a director, he would have been well-served to give total autonomy to his editor. Every shot of Boyer is held too long, every scene runs past its climax, creating a movie with no pace or narrative drive. Pointless dead time, the odd bad scene that could have been discarded — there’s an 85 minute movie in this 113 minute long film.
The script has pithy observations — “Just because I went to war doesn’t make me a hero.” — lost in a sea of “gym bros,” “warriors/just a civilian,” “rip off that band-aid,” “stay in your lane” cliches. The odd cringeworthy scene could have been tweaked, but the ones that ring false — a little live-fire gamesmanship that gets laughed-off — needed to go. We get the tiniest peek into the “jockocracy” of sports TV, and Tom Arnold shows up — as himself — to demonstrate the showbiz shlock that “fantasy football” and pandering to gamblers-not-real-fans represents.
I hadn’t paid Boyer’s acting career much mind — mostly TV work, roles in “Den of Thieves” and “The Secret of Sinchanee.” And I had forgotten the way Boyer — who played in one Seahawks pre-season game as a long snapper — injected himself into the Colin Kaepernick controversy until the new documentary “Kaepernick & America” reminded me. Then, and with this film, you get the sense of an earnest, well-intentioned man trying to help — and a self-promoter getting his name in the headlines for being the guy who advised Kaepernick to not sit down during the national anthem, but to “take a knee.”
Boyer’s circuitous route to achieving his acting dream — Hollywood rejection, then a “brief” stint as a Darfur aid worker, Green Berets, University of Texas after the military, a walk-on for their football team, that Seahawks try-out stunt, then acting and veteran’s advocate activism — has a “whatever it takes” pluck that you have to admire. Figuring out a way into a business that runs on wealth, connections and nepotism, as well as beauty and talent, has a sort of “whatever hustle works” ethos. But none of those resume-padding occupations gave him a director’s eye and feel for storytelling with a camera. With a bit of editing and polish and in the right directing hands, this screenplay might have played, his performance might have been toned down. “MVP” could have made the cut. Good intentions or not, it doesn’t.