Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David S. Ward|
|Produced by||Tom Rothman
Samuel Goldwyn Jr.
|Written by||David S. Ward
|Music by||Michel Colombier|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures (USA)
The Samuel Goldwyn Company (International)
The Program is a 1993 film starring James Caan, Halle Berry, Omar Epps, Craig Sheffer, Kristy Swanson, and Joey Lauren Adams. The film was directed by David S. Ward who has directed and written other Hollywood films such as the Major League series.
The film touches on the season of the fictional college football team, the ESU Timberwolves as they deal with the pressure to make a bowl game, drug and alcohol abuse, and overall college life. It follows the trials of Coach Sam Winters (Caan), the Heisman Trophy candidate Joe Kane (Sheffer), the freshman running back Darnell Jefferson (Epps), their girlfriends (Berry & Swanson), and other team members.
The film was released by Touchstone Pictures in September 1993. The movie went on to gross over twenty million dollars at the box office. The film was shot on location at several American universities, including: Boston College, Duke University, the University of Michigan, the University of Iowa, and the University of South Carolina. The film includes a cameo appearance from Miami University and Michigan coaching legend Bo Schembechler.
The ESU Timberwolves are entering a season with high expectations after two disappointing seasons. The film begins with a loss to end the prior season, along with the school president putting pressure on Sam Winters (Caan) to win this coming season or face a possible firing. Sophomore quarterback Joe Kane (Sheffer) spends the Christmas bowl season with his alcoholic father and brother, while junior NFL prospect Alvin Mack (Duane Davis) gives his mother an engraved door knocker as a present to go with the new house she will soon have when he turns pro. The film then follows the recruiting of Darnell Jefferson (Epps), a highly rated running back, and his eventual commitment to ESU. During the recruiting phase, Jefferson is given a tour of the campus by Autumn (Berry), a beautiful young student, and the two bond immediately, sharing a kiss before they part ways.
The film then cuts to the following fall, as football season is about to get underway. Jefferson is brought to a bar by Kane where he is introduced to Mack, backup QB Bobby Collins (Jon Pennell), who is dating Winters' daughter Louanne (Adams), and senior Steve Lattimer (Andrew Bryniarski), who has played on the punt return team for the first three years of his college career but has somewhat mysteriously gained 35 pounds since last fall with the goal of starting in his senior year.
Fall camp commences, with Jefferson fumbling during practice and subsequently forced to carry a football with him at all times. Winters warns that if any other player brings the football back to him, "you'll wish you were never born." Jefferson later reunites with Autumn, but discovers that she is dating the starting tailback Ray Griffen (J. Leon Pridgen II) (his main competition) and that when they last met the two were temporarily broken up because he had cheated on her with a white girl. Later on, Jefferson takes his entrance exams and worries about the test, going to Mack and Lattimer for advice. Lattimer tells him not to worry as it took him four times to pass the test, and he reveals that Mack is given copies of the test before he takes them and that, despite maintaining a high-enough GPA to be academically eligible at the university, Mack is functionally illiterate. Mack reassures Jefferson that the school will keep him eligible if he's talented enough to play, and that all he needs to know how to do is sign an NFL contract. Jefferson is neither surprised nor worried when he finds out that he failed the test, and when recommended that he find a tuitor he chooses Autumn, who reluctantly agrees.
Sports Illustrated runs a cover story on Kane and declares him a Heisman Trophy candidate, but he has trouble with the pressure put upon him by the school and its campaign prepared for him, and drinks to deal with his stress. He meets a tennis player, Camille, (Swanson) and as their first date they go on a thrilling and scary motorcycle ride. They then develop a relationship.
Mack is now a senior, simply waiting for the upcoming NFL Draft in April, and his indifference to academics is shown clearly in a tutoring session where he couldn't care less about learning the material, but his strong ability to read offenses and football strategy during film study shows his commitment to football. Meanwhile, the offensive coordinator is worried that Lattimer is taking performance-enhancing drugs due to his increased size and ability and occasional displays of 'roid rage. Coach Winters tells him that the amount of weight that Lattimer gained is far from impossible with steady work in the gym throughout the entire off-season, and that if he is taking steroids that the NCAA will catch him during a drug test. Later on, though, when he learns that he has been named a starting defensive end, Lattimer walks into the parking lot and shatters car windows with his head while screaming "STARTING DEFENSE!! PLACE AT THE TABLE!!" This is witnessed by several people, including both the offensive and defensive coordinators, who agree not to tell Winters about the behavior, but decide to warn Lattimer that the NCAA will be drug-testing before the start of the season.
Before the start of the season, the Heisman campaign for Kane picks up speed and the players' individual motivations for playing football is revealed. Kane enjoys playing because while he is on the field it allows him to be distracted from the stressors of his life, such as his alcoholic father and the increased publicity surrounding him. Jefferson is using football as a way to escape the ghetto. Mack enjoys the on-field battle and physicality of the sport. Lattimer simply displays a genuine love for the game. Before the start of the season, Lattimer is able to substitute clean urine for his own during the NCAA drug tests. The team then gets off to a good start with a convincing run of victories in the first half of the season.
Meanwhile, Griffen is struggling to gain yards as the team's tailback, and Jefferson is making the most of his playing time as a backup and punt returner. Jefferson is also disturbed when he begins receiving illegal monetary donations by wealthy alumni as his playing time and performance increases, though Mack tells him to take the money. Simultaneously, Jefferson and Autumn grow closer and begin a relationship, though Autumn is too ashamed to admit that she is dating him, described by Griffen as "just another gang banger with speed," to her well-read father, another former ESU football player. She eventually resumes her relationship with Griffen, who is planning on attending medical school after he graduates.
The film progresses to show the problems of a "big-time" football program. Winters' daughter is expelled for taking a test for Collins, who is subsequently kicked off the team and also expelled. Kane and ESU then lose a close game to Michigan, which pitted him against another Heisman candidate in Michigan's quarterback, calling into question his ability to win the trophy.
Lattimer then assaults a girl unwilling to "hook up" with him, but her father is a large football booster and gets her to drop the charges. Winters finally accepts that Lattimer is juicing and wants to suspend him for the season, but he is warned by his defensive coordinator that suspending him for doping when he had never failed a drug test would leave the school wide open for a lawsuit for jeopardizing his draft status. Lattimer is then suspended for three games after he admits the drug use to Winters, with the team running a cover story of a pulled hamstring to keep the doping under wraps. Lattimer then ceases taking steroids, with Winters telling him that the team will drug test him and that he will not be allowed in the stall alone when he urinates for the tests. Mack criticizes him, but Lattimer defends himself by saying "Not everyone has your ability Alvin, you do what you have to do to play."
After the loss to Michigan, Kane gets drunk in a bar and assaults another patron (in which the patron grabbed Kane and threw the first punch) who accused him of smiling at his girlfriend, forcing the other man to be hospitalized. He flees the bar in another player's truck that he borrowed without permission and is pulled over for drunk driving and charged with a DWI. Coach Winters negotiates a plea arrangement with the district attorney wherein all charges will be dropped if Kane successfully completes a 28-day program, although this will cause him to miss four games and more or less ends his Heisman candidacy.
In addition, the team needs to win three more games in the next five weeks to win the conference championship and secure a major bowl game. But without a capable quarterback this does not seem possible. School officials then pressure Winters into letting Collins back on the team to start in Kane's place. Winters reluctantly agrees, and goes so far as to vouch for Collins' character in front of the disciplinary committee. This is despite the fact that his daughter was also expelled for cheating along with Collins and, herself, has no chance to gain re-admittance into the school. Collins is readmitted and the team goes 2-1 in the first three games with him under center, with strong defense and a relentless ground attack leading to their success.
Lattimer passes his drug test after sitting out for three weeks and returns for the second-to-last game of the season against Iowa and the fourth start of the season for Collins at quarterback. The game is close most of the way, but Mack suffers a career-ending knee injury late in the fourth quarter and Lattimer is run over at the goal line by Iowa's running back for the game's winning score.
Kane then completes his 28-day program and attempts to reconcile with Camille, whom he refused to speak to while in rehab. He also reaches out to his father, who has never seen him play before, and gives him a plane ticket to Florida for the team's final game of the season. Meanwhile, Lattimer resumes taking steroids and has an associate remove the tainted urine from his bladder and replace it with clean urine in a painful and dangerous procedure so that he can pass his next drug test.
ESU has a final game against Georgia Tech. This game will win the Eastern Athletic Conference (EAC) and secure a major bowl game. Before the start of the game Jefferson is named the team's starting tailback and Griffen is moved to fullback. Despite Mack's absence, the team defense is keeping them in the game. But due to a bad judgement call by Collins leading to an interception TD, and an intentionally missed block by Griffen leading to Jefferson fumbling the football, GT leads the game 10-0 at the half. Kane was benched for Collins but asked to start in the 2nd half. As he takes the field at the start of the second half, Kane looks into the stands for his father and realizes he is not there, but accepts that he will never see him play. Kane struggles to regain his rhythm in the third quarter, but the game remains close, thanks in part to a goal-line tackle made by Lattimer to save the game. After making the tackle Winters looks into Lattimer's eyes on the sideline and notices that they are bloodshot and distorted and realizes that he has somehow managed to continue taking steroids without failing a drug test. Lattimer looks to the ground in disappointment, although Winters seems to understand his decision to take the drugs and pats him on the helmet. Kane rallies the team to victory in the fourth quarter and secures a major bowl game, saving Winters' job, with both coach and quarterback realizing that Kane will likely make another, more-promising run at the Heisman in his senior season.
Lattimer sits on the bench and cries instead of celebrating with the team, as he realizes he will not be able to play in the NFL without performance-enhancing drugs. After the game Autumn introduces Jefferson to her father as her boyfriend. The film ends with Kane reuniting with Camille offering her another six pack ride (this time it's Sprite instead of beer), and the coaches leaving on a recruiting trip to look for next season's freshmen, particularly a replacement for Lattimer.
- Season schedule and results
- Mississippi State @ ESU - 20-28 (Win)
- There was a three-week gap between the Mississippi State game and the Michigan game, hinting that ESU easily won in those three weeks.
- Michigan @ ESU - 31-27 (Loss)
- ESU @ Boston College - 14-10 (Win)
- Texas @ ESU - 13-0 (Loss)
- ESU @ North Carolina - 14-13 (Win)
- ESU @ Iowa - 10-14 (Loss)
- Georgia Tech @ ESU - 10-13 (Win)-->
Principal photography took place in and around Columbia, South Carolina, with the University of South Carolina doubling as ESU and Williams-Brice Stadium serving the as Timberwolves' home arena. A significant amount of filming also took place on the campus of Duke University.
Last names of the crew members were used one the back of jerseys for the extras who stood in as football players.
Bo Schembechler makes a cameo appearance as a color commentator in the film.
List of major characters in The Program
- Coach Sam Winters : James Caan
- Autumn Haley : Halle Berry
- Darnell Jefferson : Omar Epps
- Joe Kane : Craig Sheffer
- Camille Shafer : Kristy Swanson
- Bud Kaminski : Abraham Benrubi
- Steve Lattimer : Andrew Bryniarski
- Alvin Mack : Duane Davis
- Ray Griffen : J. Leon Pridgen II
- Bobby Collins : Jon Pennell
- Louanne Winters : Joey Lauren Adams
- Reporter #3 : Rhoda Griffis
- Joe's Brother : Steven Griffith
The Program received largely mixed reviews. James Berardinelli said "prepare to be inundated by a load of feeble, unimaginative material that's almost impossible to take seriously." Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C+ in what was a largely negative review. Norman Chad referred to the film as "one big cliche."
The film was not without its fans, however. Roger Ebert gave the film a positive review with three stars out of four, putting particular emphasis on the amount of time spent on the relative ease in passing an NCAA drug test, saying "[a]nd the movie seems expert on how a lineman could pump himself full of steroids and still pass the NCAA drug tests." Janet Maslin gave the film a somewhat favorable review and particularly praised the performance of Andrew Bryniarski, saying "[w]hen high on steroids, he turns into a competition-crazed monster, but the film manages to make him likable anyhow."
Despite the mostly negative reviews, the doping subplot was met with universal acclaim, with most critics hailing the performance of Bryniarski as the steroid-riddled behemoth defensive end Steve Lattimer.
The movie currently holds a 42% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 19 reviews.
The film originally included a scene in which Kane reads aloud comically "It says here that I'm good under pressure," while holding a Sports Illustrated college football preview issue with him on the front cover. He then lies down the middle of a road on the yellow line as cars barely pass him at highway speeds. Several team members who are at first trying to stop Kane decide that it is a test of their bravery and team unity and join him. Influenced by the film, several teenagers imitated this scene and were either killed or suffered injuries. This resulted in the scene being removed from the film after its release. A brief clip of the scene in question showing team members lying in the street had already been aired repeatedly in the television commercials for the film and therefore captured on VCRs. Later versions of the trailer had the offending clip removed.
The only known home video release with this scene intact is the Hong Kong laserdisc published by Taishan International. This version of the film is three minutes longer than the theatrical cut and clocks in at a 115-minute run time.
- Hinds, Michael (October 19, 1993). "Not Like the Movie: A Dare Leads to Death". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-08.
- The Program at the Internet Movie Database
- The Program at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Program at Box Office Mojo