‘Fantasy Football’ fumbles the ball

MOVIE REVIEW
“Fantasy Football”

Not rated, streaming on Paramount+

Grade: B-

There’s a Hollywood tradition of lightning striking a kid and giving them magical powers.

That’s the familiar set-up to “Fantasy Football” where Callie (Marsai Martin), a brilliant high schooler, finds that the electrifying zap from the heavens above has given her video game player the power to govern her pro football playing dad’s moves.

This unlikely turn of events means that aging Bobby Coleman (Omari Hardwick) will not be benched with his new team, the Atlanta Falcons. Instead, he will become the comeback story of the ages, making no less than six touchdowns in one game, tying a real-world league record.

But Callie’s assistance becomes problematic.  Because Bobby has long been a pro player the Colemans have moved constantly as Callie has grown up.  In Atlanta she’s found, at 16, a place she’d really like to call home, especially since she’s been invited to join the robotics club at school and develop a robot for a competition.  She’s also found a nice guy there who is more interesting than any A.I. invention.

Yet as “Fantasy Football” clearly shows, her dad’s self-esteem is totally wrapped up in his identity as a pro player. He’s super depressed with being benched and a future that sees him involuntarily retired.  But now that he’s miraculously regained his stature and outpaced his much younger and rude rival (Rome Flynn), his dreams of long-wished-for glory are all coming true.
“We can buy a house with a pool!” he tells Callie, meaning they can soon get all the stuff only the best players can afford.
Yet in a plot twist that makes little sense, Callie finds her urge to be part of the school club more important than seeing Dad win and win again with her intervention.

The lesson in “Fantasy Football,” which includes LeBron James among its producers and two different writing teams, becomes not about finding your worth internally but letting your kid have her own life.

Martin, of “Black-ish” and “Little,” is ideally cast as smart, realistic and conflicted Callie.  Her scenes with Hardwick and Kelly Rowland as her mother present an ideal family coping with unusual problems.

Still, “Fantasy” seems more like an ad for Atlanta and its team than it does a transporting fairy tale.  Questionable plotting and murky motivations do not make for touchdowns.