The mere mention of “football” comes with aggressive, greedy, excited eyes; reminders of Sunday-morning tailgates, Saturday afternoon college games, and the illustrious legions of fans rallying behind their favored teams in annual, season-ending championship games. None of this would be possible without the passion, vigor, and interpersonal strength that comes with being a player. At least, that’s what co-directors Andrew and Jon Erwin ask of us and Zachary Levi’s take on Kurt Warner, the subject of American Underdog.

Warner is the quintessential underdog, going undrafted into the NFL before eventually playing for the St. Louis Rams and the Arizona Cardinals. Proving oneself is a test of mettle, faith, and patience. Zachary Levi inhabits Warner’s affection for the game, seeking that chance. More importantly, Levi’s performance evokes the care and passion for being the quintessential human. The story understands the divine provenance that Warner’s opportunity will eventually come. It is so busy that Levi becomes too comfortable in the role and the actor is trying to prove himself. Levi’s likeability can’t surmount the true feelings for the protagonist’s journey, focusing too much energy on his strengths and less on the struggle.

Warner is a natural leader, able to read a situation and pivot, but that wasn’t always the case. The story by Jon Erwin, David Aaron Cohen, and Jon Gunn, spends a significant amount of time on Warner’s college years. Levi plays the nervous energy for what it is, unable to control himself while demonstrating the arm for throwing the ball and lacking in confidence.

The Erwin’s emphasize the underdog aspect through a lack of focus. The eventual centrifuge of that focus is Brenda (Anna Paquin.) Levi’s confidence shines in an early scene as he swiftly pushes Paquin’s dance partner aside. Brenda is resistant to Warner’s charms; her adversities draw her inward. The Erwin’s and cinematographer Kristopher Kimlin’s set-ups in the bar are the most potent scenes; there is an effortless flow in the camera movements against the dancing, an ease with which Levi and Paquin appear on-screen, allows us to settle back into our seats. We are entitled to get too comfortable with what’s happening on the screen. We don’t stop to ask why, though.

American Underdog goes into the mechanics of what made the Warner’s a successful couple. Adversity rules Warner’s life; he is his own worst enemy. It isn’t until Warner decides to take a job as a grocery store clerk that the self-aware story begins to take flight. Levi and the Erwin’s never make us feel as if Warner has hit rock bottom, a challenge with how the role was conceived. The bond between Kurt and Brenda, though strained, is rock solid. Glimmers of hope that the story will move the characters beyond the status quo of the underdog do appear throughout the story. Hayden Zaller, who plays Brenda’s son Zack, is the real heart and soul of the film. Zack is fiercely independent, much like the Rossi family was in Sian Heder’s Coda from earlier this year. Levi’s Warner doesn’t see Zack for who he might be on the outside; instead, he sees Zack for who he is inside: a young boy who defies his odds.

Eventually, American Underdog’s story transitions to Warner’s years in the AFL and the NFL; Bruce McGill is a hoot as Jim Foster, the Iowa Barnstormers’ owner-coach, and Dennis Quaid nearly disappears into the role of Dick Vermeil. Just one opportunity changes the film’s pace, yet there are trials Warner faces on the field, namely Chance Kelly’s Mike Martz, who doesn’t believe that Warner has the right stuff. The Erwin’s throw everything but the kitchen sink at Levi and at the audience in the hopes that simply being an underdog, that adversity alone is enough to demonstrate the progression the character and the story work toward

Levi, though, is the film’s adversity. Having played Shazam, one is inclined to think of Zachary Levi as a loveable goofball. In American Underdog, the actor does switch gears. He understands the character’s function, and we appreciate seeing the actor in a different light. Under the circumstances, Levi, the actor, feels restrained by the divine provenance; disappointment sets in too quickly. The story sets in a level of comfort within being the underdog. By the time we get to the odds-beating moments in the third act, the story doesn’t precisely know how to handle it, other than through a mix of recorded footage and recreation of highlights from those winning moments. The Erwins’ counterbalance between achieving the goal and disappointments hampers the journey. Characters saddled through being an underdog, that omnipresent feeling that even with the achievement, we are looking at the pinnacle of one man’s career and his life to that point.

We don’t feel the push toward the win because the struggles on screen can’t surpass the success and passion; it is inevitable. The characters make us feel the effort, but only in support of the win.

I am by no means dismissing the film, the directors, the actors, or its subjects; without them, the game wouldn’t hold the same sacred meaning. Both on and off the field, we are all underdogs. We have no idea of a games’ or even a season’s outcome. We have faith that our player or our team will emerge victoriously. Even with all the planning in the world, we can’t know how the opposition will respond; this is true in life. But we do know the outcome of the American Underdog’s game.

“The true measure of a man is not how he behaves in moments of comfort and convenience but how he stands at times of controversy and challenges.” This quote from Dr. King equally applies to Kurt Warner’s journey as it does the fans who cheer him on. It fuels the Erwins’ fictionalized American Underdog and Warner’s rise to beat the odds. That’s what a biopic is supposed to achieve. We end up numb to its achievements. The comfort and convenience outweigh the times of controversy and challenges throughout the film.

It hues too closely to the feeling of only being an underdog and can’t push beyond its boundaries.