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Goal scored

‘Once in a Lifetime' is a documentary winner.


PELE: We got game, thanks to him and promoter Steve Ross.
  • PELE: We got game, thanks to him and promoter Steve Ross.

As seen in the new documentary “Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos,” the fact that American kids even know what a soccer ball is these days can pretty much be traced back to one event: the founding of the New York Cosmos soccer team in the mid-1970s. The story of the Cosmos turns out to be a stirring sports saga; a real treat for soccer fans and those who love the documentary format alike. With a “Superfly”-like ’70s soundtrack and style, “Once” charts a rise and fall of almost Shakespearean proportions, full of giant egos, obscene amounts of money, and the simple love of the game.

The story is mostly that of Steve Ross, chairman of Warner Communications in the early 1970s and a lover of all sports. Ross had a dream: to bring soccer to the American masses. As someone who worked in showbiz, Ross had the good sense to know that people in this country like spectacle. To that end, he used Warner Brothers cash to bring the best soccer players from around the world to play in New York, including arrogant Italian Giorgio Chinaglia, German wunderkind Franz Beckenbauer, and the Wayne Gretzky of soccer, Pele (who was wooed to the U.S. from his home in Brazil with a $5 million contract — at a time when Hank Aaron, the highest-paid player in baseball, was making $200,000 a year).

With such stars, the Cosmos stood at the head of a burgeoning nationwide soccer league. Ross’ eye for showmanship and his highly paid dream team eventually drew more than 70,000 fans to Giants Stadium. Egos and greed eventually won the day, however, and it was a downhill slide from there.

As with any documentary, “Once in a Lifetime” rises and falls with the quality of the people interviewed. And with many of those involved being gone-to-pot gods of their sport, you know it’s going to be good. “Once” doesn’t disappoint, as it’s full of often-funny and heartbreaking stories of backbiting, rivalry, locker-room arrogance and boardroom showdowns.

Rising above even that is the story of Steve Ross’ dream, and how, for a brilliant second, it came true. Though the money men eventually killed the goose that laid the golden egg — his larger dream of making soccer as popular in America as it was everywhere else in the world — every kid who laces up his cleats and heads to the soccer pitch this Saturday owes him a debt of gratitude. In short: “Once in a Lifetime” is a winner, even if you aren’t a soccer fan. See it soon.

One to hiss at
You know, what with all the hype, the title, the sometimes questionable acting talents of Samuel L. Jackson on tap, and a plot that sounds like it came straight from two snake-phobic drunks jotting on a cocktail napkin, “Snakes on a Plane” could have been the worst movie of all time. However, the truth is: It actually wasn’t as horrible as I thought it was going to be. It was horrible, sure. But it didn’t ascend to the dizzying heights of horribleness that some Hollywood scare-fests achieve. It wasn’t “House of Wax” horrible. It wasn’t as horrible as, say, an hour of footage of puppies being dropped off cliffs and smushed by freight trains. As the Internet nerds figured out from the title of this one, sometimes bad is actually kinda fun.

Newcomer Sean Jones plays Nathan Phillips, a Hawaiian X-treme-type surfer dude. While ripping his dirt bike through the hills of the Big Island, Phillips witnesses the murder of a vacationing L.A. district attorney at the hands of Chinese gangster Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson), a ruthless L.A. crime lord. After Phillips gets away, Kim’s men somehow track him down and try to kill him. Only the talents of hardboiled FBI agent Nelville Flynn (Jackson) save the day. Though the D.A.’s murder happened in Hawaii, Flynn talks Phillips into flying back to L.A. with him in order to testify against Kim. They board a 747, and settle in for the flight. Somewhere over the Pacific, however, a timer goes off in the belly of the plane and opens a big ol’ crate full of hundreds of poisonous snakes — which are presumably easier to smuggle onto an airliner than a bomb, gun, or midget hit man in a carry-on bag.

With the snakes juiced on an aggression-producing pheromone, chaos ensues. Every snake hater’s nightmare imaginable is eventually on display (including, but not limited to: “Bitten on the penis while urinating,” “Bitten on the lip while trying to barf in an airsickness bag,” and the ever-popular “Hot blonde bitten on her exposed nipple while having sex in a tiny airplane bathroom”) and it’s up to Flynn to keep as many passengers alive as he can.

Like I said, “Snakes on a Plane” isn’t as terrible as it could have been. Though it hinges on some of the most improbable plot points ever devised, everyone involved seems to understand that what they’re making is crap, and treats it as such. That leads to some very over-the-top performances, with none of the heavy-handedness actors usually throw at dreck like this. In particular, Jackson seems to be having a hell of a good time, even though he’s theoretically trapped in a giant aluminum tube with hundreds of computer-generated snakes. While it ain’t the movie of the year, “Snakes on a Plane” does have some scares, especially if you’ve got a thing about anything that slithers.

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