Champsion movie poster


In theaters March 10, 2023


123 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , ,

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 30 years since Woody Harrelson took to the basketball court as Billy Hoyle in the memorable White Men Can’t Jump (1992). But here we are with a far older Harrelson back on the court but in a different capacity in the hilarious new comedy Champions (2023).

Once a highly coveted coach at Ohio State, Marcus Markovich (Harrelson) is now riding the bench as an ignored assistant coach for the J-League Iowa Stallions until he goes full WWE on his head coach (Ernie Hudson). A few drinks too many and an arrest later, Markovich finds himself court-ordered to coach the Friends, a basketball team of intellectually disabled adults or face prison time. An easy choice, Markovich begrudgingly leads a team that can barely find the basket – including the high-spirited Showtime (Bradley Edens) who struggles to even find the backboard.

Besides the 0 for 100 center, the Friends team includes some of the most lovable characters on the big screen in some time. Just as each player plays a role on the court, so does each within the film. Johnny (Kevin Iannucci) is the heart, Marlon (Casey Metcalfe) is the brains, Craig (Matthew Von Der Ahe) is the resident stud, and Consentino (Madison Tevlin), as the sole female on the team, owns her ‘takes no prisoners’ approach to life. An argument can be made that the film pokes fun of those that are intellectually disabled, but it seems as if the actors are in on the jokes themselves.

Champions moves beyond the gymnasium as Markovich comes to enjoy his required coaching role and discovers himself in an unexpected romance with Alex (Kaitlin Olson), a 40+ year-old woman who spends her days performing Shakespeare for middle school children and still lives at home with her mother. Harrelson and Olson share strong chemistry and although the romance bogs down the story at times, the two play so well off one another that much can be forgiven.

While far too long at 2+ hours, Champions is just pure fun. Sure it’s not original, fitting alongside other rag-tag teams turned champions like those in The Bad News Bears and Major League, but it’s a feel-good film that leaves a smile on your face far after the film ends. A film with heart, at times it even feels like a distant cousin to the beloved Ted Lasso. And say what you will about Harrelson in real life (the self-proclaimed anarchist recently caused controversy during his SNL monologue where he spoke out against Covid protocols), what separates the three-time Oscar nominee from past roles is the joy on his face throughout the movie. Rather than being just another part, Harrelson looks like he’s really enjoying himself and that glee jumps from screen to viewer. At a time when the world can feel a bit off-balance, Champions brings laughs reminiscent of the good ole days when comedies ruled the multiplex.

Champsion is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Mark Eaton
Mark is an entertainment junkie, spending much of his leisure time watching movies, TV, or listening to any and all genres of music. Most evenings, after finishing a day of work and hanging with his wife and kids, Mark can be found in an eternal battle with his DVR, trying to clear it before another 5-6 hours of shows are recorded the next day. Still reeling from his unpaid gig for the Detroit News where he was fired for being too cruel with his American Idol recaps, Mark is thrilled to be sharing his wicked sense of humor with Movie Reelists.

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