Dir: Danny Cannon. UK.2005 110mins

Goal! is the first episode in a planned football trilogyabout a 19-year-old Latino Santiago plucked from LA to play in the EnglishPremiership. The second film - to be shot by House Of Wax director JaumeCollet Serra from next month - will see him play on a European stage in theChampions' League. The third feature will be filmed during the World Cup inGermany next year.

On one level, this is asmuch a marketing opportunity as a feature film. It was dreamed up by Mike Jefferies,the British-born entrepreneur behind Milkshake Films. Executive-produced byLawrence Bender, the project is supported by FIFA, football's governingauthority, and heavily backed by Adidas.

The film-makers show noembarrassment about parading brand names in front of camera nor by includingmindless celebrity cameos (including David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane and Raul).Their aim is obvious: to capitalise on the huge untapped cinematic appeal ofthe world's popular sport.

Football-themed films havetraditionally been niche items at best, inducing yawns and incomprehension inUS audiences in particular (the more American-orientated The Game Of Their Livestook less than $400,000 there earlier this year). But then few have been hypedas aggressively as Jefferies' trilogy.

There is a sense that thefilm-makers are trying to buy box-office success. Just as certain wealthytycoons bankroll real-life football clubs, enabling managers to sign whicheverplayers they want, so the producers and their marketeers have provided directorDanny Cannon with enormous resources.

But Goal! is bound todate very rapidly. In years to come, it will seem as much a curiosity asThorold Dickinson's Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1940) or John Huston'sill-fated Escape To Victory (1981) and the contemporary references andin-jokes will quickly lose their currency. It's a moot point as to how well the'Toon' (the nickname for Newcastle United, Santiago's first club) humour will playwith a global audience. In the UK, though, Goal! is likely to scorehandsomely with audiences, thanks to its national release through Buena Vistaon Sept 30.

Walt Disney Company holdsrights to select territories, including North America; other distributorsinclude Village Roadshow (Australia), Toshiba (Japan) and Epsilon (Germany).The film screened in Deauville this week (BVI releases it in France on Oct 12)

As a piece of storytelling, Goal!is Boy's Own wish-fulfilment fantasy fare, every bit as corny as kids'comic strip Roy Of The Rovers. The plotting is predictable: reverses andtriumphs follow each other in rapid succession.

Santiago (Kuno Becker) isthe archetypal movie underdog. A good-looking Mexican kid, he is eking out anexistence as gardener and labourer in LA when he is spotted playing football byex-Newcastle star Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane).

A few plot twists later heis starring in Newcastle's last-grasp bid to secure a place in Europeancompetition. There is also some token family drama (Santiago's dad disapprovesof his dream) and the prospect of romance (the young player hits it off withthe club nurse.)

Jefferies' wisest move is tobring in veteran British writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (The LikelyLads, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet) to re-write his own original story. Theyprovide some scabrous Geordie humour, a little satire at the expense of UKtabloid culture, and a bit of grit and realism to what otherwise might haveseemed like a prolonged sportswear commercial.

Just occasionally, Goal!exposes some uncomfortable home truths about the UK's football culture. Playerswill be ruthlessly discarded if they're injured or lose form. The best,meanwhile, are paid obscene amounts of money.

In one telling scene, acynical agent tries to lure Santiago away from the kind-hearted, long-sufferingFoy. The agent promises Santiago marketing, exposure, celebrity, wealth. Theirony is that these are precisely the values that Goal! itself iscelebrating.

One guesses that MichaelWinterbottom, originally slated to direct, might have investigated the seamyand exploitative side of English football in a little more depth. Danny Cannonis more concerned with making an upbeat, feelgood drama.

At least there are some verylikable performances. Alessandro Nivola is engaging and funny as thehedonistic, floppy-haired Newcastle striker who behaves like a spoiled kid, butturns out to be a good lad at heart. Dillane, as the ever-earnest Glen Foy, andMarcel Iures as the philosophical Newcastle manager, are also excellent value.

Throughout, there is atongue in cheek quality which goes a long way to atoning for the film'sexcesses (not least the preposterous appearances put in by the Real Madridstars, also Adidas-sponsored and set to become Santiago's team mates in thesecond film.)

The football scenesthemselves are not especially memorable. Cannon includes a surprising number ofsequences of Santiago practising shooting into an open net, but the match dayaction is fragmentary and under-souped.

For all the hurdles theyoung Mexican star must overcome (asthma, homesickness, the mud-drenchedpitches of the north-east, tabloid photographers, the distraction of women etc)the result is never in doubt. That, from a storytelling point of view, is theproblem.

Production company
Milkshake Films

UK distribution
Buena Vista

Executive producers
Lawrence Bender
Peter Hargitay
Mark Huffam

Mike Jefferies
Matt Barrelle

Dick Clement
Ian LaFrenais
from a story by Mike Jefferies
Adrian Butchart

Michael Barrett

Dusanee Puinongpo

Production design
Laurence Dorman

Graeme Revell

Main cast
Alessandro Nivola
Stephen Dillane
Anna Friel
Marcel Iures
Sean Pertwee
Lee Ross
Stephen Graham
Kevin Knapman
Cassandra Bell
Kieran O'Brien
Tony Plana
Miriam Colon