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If most of what you see in Next Goal Wins hadn’t actually happened you would not have believed it, and even if you would, Taika Waititi’s soulless script and direction make sure you just don’t care.

There’s nothing like a good underdog story and on paper Next Goal Wins has it all. After all, who wouldn’t be roused by the prospect of seeing the worst football team in the world defy the odds and pull off their first ever win?

As translated to the screen by Taika Waititi the tale loses nearly all of its charm though. With a by-the-numbers approach, cardboard characters and inexplicable tonal shifts the picture scores one own-goals after the other.

The film’s problems start in the very first minute, as Taika Waikiki makes an ill-advised panto appearance as a narrator whose purpose is spurious and who is better suited to a sketch show than to a feature movie. Many other characters in Next Goal Wins suffer from the same problem, while others – like Michael Fassbender’s lead performance as the team coach – seem to be in another, more dramatic film altogether, causing an odd, often obnoxious imbalance in the film.

Maybe it was the plan from the get-go to indulge in broad, predictable comedy but that backfires spectacularly due to a total lack of funny sequences, a dearth of characters you actually care for and the glacial pace at which the narrative unspools.

Next Goal Wins thus continues the gradual slide in quality of Taika Waititi’s output after Hollywood came calling. Here’s hoping the film will be his nadir, for the sake of audiences worldwide.

release: 2023

director: Taika Waititi

starring: Michael Fassbender, Oscar Kightley, Kaimana, David Fane


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