You’re Welcome Hollywood: Sunset Park

Last night, after streaming an MLS playoff game on my computer, I found myself up watching an old Rhea Perlman movie. When I was in high school, it was one of my favorite sports movies. Seeing it now, I realize that it is actually relatively bad.

However, as the movie played I did notice something. It had the makings for another “You’re Welcome Hollywood” post. “You’re Welcome Hollywood” is a blog series in which I look at old sports movies and remake them by slightly altering characters, and the sport, into great American soccer movies.

An oft forgotten –for relatively good reason- movie of the “white savior inner city school” genre was Sunset Park. Despite only being good to watch late nights on TBS and TNT, this movie has the fame of destroying the career of almost every actor that was in it.  Regardless, looking at it’s plot -a teacher chose to coach basketball to earn money, despite knowing nothing about the sport- I could just see the soccer potential as lots of soccer coaches I have over the years.

How many times has someone been on a schools soccer team where the entire strategy of the coach’s practice was “fast breaks” (counter attacks) and “penalty kicks” (penalties)? I remember my freshman year in high school our coach didn’t even do set pieces with us. This idea, plus the basic plot structure of Sunset Park, made me realize it is a soccer movie just waiting to happen.

You’re welcome Hollywood.

A coach who knows nothing about the sport? Sounds like a lot of high school coaches I know.

The Film: 1996’s Sunset Park

The Original Plot: Phyllis Saroka, a recently divorced high school Science -or was it English or Social Studies? You know what, it doesn’tmatter- teacher, wants to quit teaching and open up a Greek restaurant. To gain extra money she signs up to be her school’s basketball coach, despite knowing nothing about the sport. The team figures out she knows nothing relatively quickly and rebel against her. However, upon seeing this, she decides to learn the game. Eventually, upon reearning her team’s trust, they make a run towards the New York City High School Basketball championship.

The Remake: Phyllis Saroka, a recently divorced high school Spanish -it’s all about the Latin influence people- teacher, wants to quit teaching and open up a Greek restaurant. To gain extra money she signs up to be her school’s soccer coach, despite knowing nothing about the sport. The team figures out she knows nothing relatively quickly and rebel against her. However, upon seeing this, she decides to learn the game. Eventually, upon reearning her team’s trust, they make a run towards the New York City High School Soccer championship. (This part is always the easiest)

And it Shall be Called: Sunset Pitch, if only to confuse baseball fans into buying tickets.

This movie was supposed to make me a movie star.

Character: Phyllis Saroka
Position in Original: high school PE teacher/boys basketball coach
Position in Remake: high school Spanish teacher/boys soccer coach
Portrayed By: Rhea Perlman

Phyllis Saroka was a physical education coach who takes a job coaching boys basketball at Sunset Park. Like most movies in this genre in the mid to late 90s, Saroka starts out not caring about anything except money -because high school teachers and coaches make so much cash. Her original goal is to take her earnings from teaching and coaching a high school basketball team (from inner city Brooklyn) and buy a restaurant.But eventually she learns to love the team and want them to do their best (how uplifting). In our remake she starts the exact same way. Except, to add realism, she picks up the coaching job to try to move to the suburbs, not open a restaurant.

Defining Moment: During the first game one of her players receives a red card, she asks one of the other players what that means. She then decides to sub out all of the other players so they too do not earn a card. She then finds that she can only sub out three players. So she switches from her “wherever the hell you want to stand” formation to a 10-0-0. This, of course, is when her team realizes she has no idea what she’s talking about.

I was actually a decent sized movie star before this film.

Character: Shorty Doo-wop
Position in Original: Point Guard
 Position in Remake: Creative Midfielder
 Portrayed By: Fredro Starr

Let’s be honest, Shorty Doo-Wop is the best non Spike Lee name for any “urban” character ever.  In the original Shorty favors himself as the leader of the team, even if they all do not take him seriously.  Over the course of the movie he becomes the closest to the new coach.  He helps her out, because he wants to win.  However, when he finds out about her restaurant he quits.  Eventually –I don’t remember why- he comes back to the team.  In our remake, Shorty is a creative midfielder.  Most of the team does not take soccer too seriously, but he has dreams of playing professional, which is why he wants to win.

Defining Moment: When the Phyllis figures out that she actually needs to do something more than scrimmage during practices the entire team decides to not participate.  Instead the team follows Shorty’s lead and gives her the silent treatment, while continuing to scrimmage.  When Phyllis approaches Shorty and asks for his help he tells her, “You may not take this serious, but this is real to me.  I pattern myself after the oldRonaldinho.  He doesn’t score a lot of goals, but he makes the team better.  That’s me.  I want us to be better, but you think we’re a joke.”

What's everyone complaining about? I've been in lots of movies.

Character: Spaceman
Position in Original: Forward
Position in Remake: Goalie
Portrayed By: Terrence Howard

Before “whooping that trick” and gaining an Academy Award for it, Terrence Howard was stuck playing small parts in bad movies.  Spaceman is no difference. In the original, Spaceman was carefree, took nothing too seriously, but on the basketball court he was a Dennis Rodman type defender.  He was also on probation, which came up frequently as he also enjoyed smoking weed.  Now renamed Spencer Armstrong, he is a goalie, still carefree, and a bit crazy, he has no problem tossing elbows when intercepting a cross, or grabbing someone’s foot while coming off the line.

Defining Moment: After walking all the way to the midfield line during a play, the other team ends up on the counter attack.  This team played the school earlier in the preseason and tries to kick the ball over Spencer –from midfield- into the goal; however, Spencer darts back as the ball is played, traps it with his feet, and sends in a 60-yard, perfectly placed long-ball to Darrin who scores a goal as the other team gawks at Spencer.

What do you mean I'll have no more acting jobs after this?

Character: Busy-bee Winger
Position in Original: Guard
Position in Remake: Midfielder
Portrayed By: De-aundre Bonds

Busy-bee did not play a lot at the beginning of the movie, he was pushed around by the other players, and Phyllis assumes he is not very good because he does not look like an athlete.  Midway through the movie he is shot and robbed for his jacket, when he returns he is allowed to start, mostly to the chagrin of his teammates; however, he ends up being a stellar player despite his awkward appearance.  The entire plotline of Busy-bee reads like many American soccer players who do not look athletic at all, so end up cut from their teams.  In the remake it would play out exactly the same way, though now he is named Bernard Williams, when he finally gets a chance to play he is one of the best players on the team.

Defining Moment: Early in the season, Phyllis tells Bernard to get in the game for Shorty with just a few minutes left. Bernard stand up and Shorty pushes him back down and says, “this unathletic chump is not taking my spot.” Bernard retorts back, “hey, I can play.” To which Shorty replies, “look at you, you [censored] clown, you can barely walk.” Phyllis responds, “he’ll go in because I said he will.” Shorty respons, “Bernard, sit down before I [censor] you up.” Bernard sits back down on the bench and buries his head.

No, I only wish I was Avon Barksdale.

Character: Butter
Position in Original: Center
Position in Remake: Target Forward
Portrayed By: Talent Harris

Butter is a smooth scoring big man, who has a way with the ladies.  Even when the team is bad, he is averaging double digits in scoring.  He, however, is the most disrespectful to the coach, and to his teachers.  This leads to him eventually getting benched, before –of course- making amends with the coach.  Here Butter, now named Alejandro, is a big target forward.  He gets a goal every game at the beginning, as once the ball gets to he attempts to dribble through everyone, or just shoots it from where he is.  In the remake, he eventually gets benched because of his gunner ways.  Eventually he sees that he must hold up the ball instead of just attacking, and makes up with the coach.

Defining Moment: Midway through the season, Alejandro has gained the reputation as a gunner.  But in his first game back from being benched, he is played up top in a 4-5-1.  When Bernard sends him a low pass, the defenders all take a step back waiting for him to dribble at them or to just take a 30+ yard shot.  Instead, he holds the ball for a split second and sends a pass through the line to a Shorty who is cutting in from the wing.

Boy, this movie just killed everyone's career didn't it?

Character: Drano
Position in Original: Guard
Position in Remake: Forward
Portrayed By: Antwon Tanner

Drano is a guard who is scared to shoot, despite having excellent skills.  Once Phyllis gives him the confidence he needs he becomes the teams top player.  In addition, unlike the other members of the team, Drano is not only a star athlete but a star student.  He spends a good portion of the latter half of the movie tutoring Butter and Spaceman.  Despite the team losing the New York City High School Basketball Championship, he is named the player of the tournament, which gets him a college scholarship. In our remake, Drano, now named Luis, is a forward who is pushed around by the other players.  We learn that despite his smarts, he does not have the money to attend college, nor the time –due to working a few jobs- to fill out scholarship and student loan applications.  After he is named the player of the tournament in the championship game, despite losing, we see a scout from an MLS academy offering him a chance to come trial with the team.

Defining Moment: In the first game where Phyllis installs an actual formation for the team to play, Luis plays up top with Alejandro in a 4-4-2.  He ends up finishing the game with a hat-trick, but misses a penalty kick that could have won the game.  It ends up in a draw, and while he expects everyone to come over and insult him they instead jump on him as it is the first game of the season where the team did not drop all three points.

Terrence Howard and I are the only survivors of the "Sunset Park Jinx".

Character: Boo Man
Position in Original: Guy in the Stands
Position in Remake: American Football Player in the Stands
Portrayed By: Guy Torry

Boo Man is simply a comedic character who shows up to the game to make fun of the team and the coach.  When the team is losing, he is awful.  When the team is winning he is even worse.  So what kind of person could show up game-in-game-out to make fun of soccer players? How about we make him the quarterback from the school’s terrible American football team?

Defining Moment: At the end of the film, Boo Man is seen asking the coach about being on the team next year, because he’s tired of playing on a losing team.

I expect to see this one out in late summer, it’ll be a hit this time around, I promise.



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