It's the start of the football season and Kilnockie F.C. have allowed the ashes of a recently deceased and lifelong fan of the team to be scattered on the pitch. In the office of manager Gordon McLeod (Robert Duvall), however, things are not quite as tranquil because he is arguing with the American owner Peter Cameron (Michael Keaton) about their new signing. He is former Celtic star Jackie McQuiillan (Ally McCoist), who just happens to be the son-in-law of McLeod and not his favourite person by any means. But more ominous than that, Cameron is planning to move the whole club to Dublin if they don't succeed this season...
I'll be honest, I know very little about football but I do like comedies and A Shot at Glory, also known as The Cup, provides a wealth of laughs. Just a pity it's supposed to be a serious drama, really, but much of the blame can be placed on producer and star Duvall, for whom this was a pet project. There's no doubting his sincerity, but there was a lot of doubt over his attempt at the Scottish accent which was nothing short of hilarious. It's very strange to hear him speaking lines like "It gives me the boak!" in a brogue that makes Scotty from Star Trek sound like Sean Connery.
Writer Denis O'Neill seems to have done his research, and there are plenty of Scottish actors in the film who must have striven for authenticity but the fact is that this looks more like an effort to amuse North Americans rather than anyone in Britain. According to this, the other Scottish national pasttime, other than football that is, is swearing: Duvall's first line is "He's a fuckin' headcase!" and even the little old lady who nearly gets run over by McQuillan in his sports car near the start lets rip with the expletives. Presumably this was intended to lend gritty authenticity, but like most of the film it comes across as hopelessly contrived.
And everyone in the film is incredibly aggressive, even when they're cooling down a fracas. McLeod is presented as a man in touch with nature due to his passion for fishing and riding his bicycle, which suggests a Local Hero approach to the village of Kilnockie that goes horribly wrong and feels incredibly patronising. There are yet more ridiculous aspects: real life Rangers star McCoist plays for Celtic in this, so in supposed footage from his career we see on television his Rangers shirt has been digitally painted green - would anyone in Scotland be the slightest bit fooled?
No, not even I was fooled. That's not to mention the man dressed as a fish... the mascot? Or a random nutter? As Kilnockie steadily makes its way to the final, we have to endure scenes of domestic drama between McLeod and his daughter Kate (Kirsty Mitchell) that make Take the High Road look like the very model of searing emotional intensity. Mark Knopfler's score always falls back on cliché - if there's bagpipes around then they will be heard - which at least suits the rest of the production and there's an American goalkeeper to contend with (Sylvester Stallone not available?). The film ends in a letdown if you happen to have been enjoying it, with a penalty shootout that will have you thinking, well, big deal. The fact that something similar to the plot of this happened in real life a few years later doesn't make it any more believable and the film is unlikely to replace Escape to Victory in the hearts of the world's football cinema fans. And saying "Aye, aye, aye" all the time doesn't make you sound Scottish, Mr Duvall. Oh dearie me.