Next Destination Verification (TIFF).

Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins doesn’t reinvent sports comedy, but it’s a strong, enjoyable effort.

ACTION: A down-and-out soccer coach (Michael Fassbender) is sent to American Samoa to coach their terribly terrible team.

REVIEW: Inspirational football stories are having a moment, and Next Goal Wins is another underdog story to compare Ted Lasso. While it’s not as deep as that occasionally profound show, Taika Waititi’s long-delayed film should put a smile on the face of anyone who enjoys a good underdog story a la Cool running. The film is based on a documentary of the same name. It proves to be a natural fit for Waititi’s sensibilities, as he seems more comfortable with a closer film here What we do in the shadows or Hunt for the Wilderpeople than everyone else Thor Films he made or even Jojo Rabbit.

Waititi himself plays only a small role on screen, with his local priest serving as a quasi-narrator for what might seem like a clichéd inspiration fable if it weren’t true. After not being seen on screen for several years, Michael Fassbender is now trying his hand at comedy, playing the aggressive trainer Thomas Rongen, who is excluded from his coaching job after a few too many outbursts, but given one by his boss (Will). The last chance is given to Arnett), who also happens to be with Jongen’s ex-wife (Elisabeth Moss).

He is appointed as coach of the infamous American Samoa team, who never survived their devastating 31-0 defeat to Australia in a FIFA qualifier. The team’s boss, Tavita (a stunning Oscar Kightley), has only one request from Rongen – that the team score a single goal in a qualifying game. This is easier said than done since the team has no knowledge of the sport and Rongen himself is a borderline alcoholic.

What does The next target wins The cast is so effective, with Fassbender more likable than usual and the sarcastic Rongen. He plays the film tongue-in-cheek, his sarcasm and cynicism never reaching the point of making him uncomfortable to watch. The film really rests on the shoulders of the cast, most of whom have Samoan ancestry, and rise to the occasion. Waititi regulars Kightley (who wears an ever-fading bosom on his head as a prank for much of the film) and Rachel House do much of the comic work, while the consistently solid Beulah Koale plays her son Daru. Who is one of the guys on the team with the most potential? Another standout character is transgender actress Kaimana, who plays real-life transgender Jaiyah, who identifies as Fa’afafine, a third gender represented in Polynesian culture. Bigger stars like Arnett (who replaced Armie Hammer after filming initially wrapped) and Moss have smaller roles, while other Waititi regulars like Rhys Darby, Luke Hemsworth and Angus Sampson make cameo appearances.

While The next target wins doesn’t bring anything new to the inspirational sports film genre, but it’s still a well-made entry with great locations and a fun soundtrack of 80s classics. It’s strange that the film had such a long post-production process since it was filmed back in 2019 (Hammer wasn’t replaced until 2022, longer after the film should have been released). Waititi clearly plays the hits here, but in the midst of heavier fare at this year’s TIFF edition, it played pretty well and left a smile on my face. It won’t rank among his best films, but it’s a strong, enjoyable effort.

Next target wins, release, Taika Waititi

7 Next Destination Verification (TIFF).

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