The Kick - So bad it's good, or just bad?

Last updated 09:50 11/08/2014

It's fair to say I wasn't looking forward to The Kick last night.  The whole idea had me perplexed. There's no shame - or originality, come to that - in making a film about a huge sporting moment.

But three years seems like a pretty short time to be making one about Stephen 'Beaver' Donald - even in rugby-mad New Zealand. Hell, Invictus took 14 years to see light of day.

There's are probably more people with the original game on their MySky boxes than those who watched TVNZ's semi-fictionalised version of Beaver's rise and fall from public grace before his ultimate redemption against France at Eden Park.

And even more who already knew how it was going to end - how couldn't you if you've lived in New Zealand for more than a day since the 2011 World Cup final?

Leaving that aside, however, what of the movie itself?

It's telling that hours after watching I still cannot make up my mind whether it was a greatest piece of kitsch television - when it falls into the 'so bad it's great' category - or just plain bad.

Undoubtedly some of it was genius - David de Lautour did a fantastic job as the man himself - his mannerisms were spot on and he seemed to be able to put away a whitebait fritter and a bottle of Waikato pretty easily.

And Geoff Dolan - the man who tore up the screen every time he appeared on The Almighty Johnsons as Thor - was cast brilliantly as Steve 'Shag' Hansen. Anyone who's spent five minutes with Hansen would surely agree.

But other casting decisions were bizarre - some of the players wouldn't have looked out of place in the president's grade team I used to run out in, and none of us wore jerseys without multiple XXs on the label.

Others, like Richie McCaw, were mind-blowing in how unlike the person they were supposed to be.

It's inevitable when we see McCaw on television all the time that whomever played him was going to stick out like a sore thumb - but that doesn't make it feel less wrong. It was made even worse by McCaw appearing in adverts during breaks in the film itself.

And the dialogue? The only time when it didn't seem forced were the moments when Beaver and Kaks (Richard Kahui) were relaxing together and talking like friends. There were also too many moments where I think the scriptwriters were trying to be clever.

"The record's gone. Along with my World Cup chances, I reckon," said Donald after his Hong Kong horror show. Or "Kieran Read? Never heard of him" said his Principal after Counties Manukau sign him for the NPC.

That kind of stuff is only funny if... no, scratch that, it's never funny. We know the story and how it ends. We know who Kieran Read is. We don't need the wink, wink stuff.

Perhaps I'm being unfair on the writers - let's be honest, rugby players generally aren't well known for their wit and repartee. It just seemed a little too cliched for my liking.

And so to the man himself.

It's fair to describe Beaver's story as a fairytale. He had his detractors, of that their is no doubt. Some were vicious, loud and over the top. And he, ultimately, landed the eponymous kick that allowed the All Blacks to claim only their second World Cup - mere days after he seemed to be trying to drink the Waikato dry of draught.

But let's not kid ourselves that the over-the-top reaction to sporting events doesn't happen nearly ever day in New Zealand. You only need listen to Radio Sport to hear professional sportspeople loudly castigated - by hosts and by callers.

I'm not saying it's right - I'm just saying it hardly makes Beaver unique in the 'most hated' category. And, to be fair, the critics had a point, even if some of them were assholes about it. He made some pretty basic mistakes in the black jersey, particularly in Hong Kong against Australia.

Donald was an excellent Super Rugby player. He was an All Black when the selectors were desperate to find a back-up for Dan Carter. In some ways it was an impossible task - Carter is perhaps the greatest ever and no-one can match up to that - and Beaver would be the first to admit that. 

But his All Blacks career was almost glossed over in the film's narrative - it became about two games - the Bledisloe Cup loss and the World Cup win. He actually played another 21 times for the All Blacks, scoring 98 points in total. You wouldn't have known from watching last night, even if it wasn't exactly full of major highlights.

Even now, though, I'm starting to wonder whether I'm analysing it too much. After all, the majority of what appeared on screen actually happened. He really did get a last minute call to play for his country while whitebaiting and score the winning points.

Ah, sod it. I'm nailing my colours to the mast. Beaver is a great guy - I've interviewed him and he was polite, humble and knew what he was speaking about. Not all that common amongst the All Blacks.

Whether the difficulties he faced were over-written or not, he faced up to one of the greatest challenges a professional rugby player could - and succeeded, securing himself a spot in the annals of sporting history at the same time.

From a disliked All Black to the man who will always be just Beaver to the Kiwi public. If you can't take enjoyment out of that, then there is no hope. The Kick isn't going to win any awards.

But there was just something so quintessentially Kiwi about it that I can't help smiling when I think about it.

So bad it's good? The Kick and Stephen Donald's All Blacks career, both.

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