Premièred at last year’s San Sebastian Festival, The Unbeatables (2013) – previously entitled Metegol (Foosball) – is a curious breed of animated adventure fodder, and not merely because it’s Academy Award-winning director Juan José Campanella’s follow-up to the widely different The Secret in Their Eyes (2009). In his youth, skilled foosball player Amadeo (Rupert Grint) wiped the floor with Flash (Anthony Head), a cocksure bully who was left red-faced. Years later, while Amadeo has struggled to make much of a name for himself, Flash has become a pro football player. He returns to his hometown with the intention of bulldozing it flat and erecting a massive stadium in its place.
Swiftly running out of options, Amadeo’s only hope is to beat Flash once more, this time with the help of his beloved miniature foosball players who have miraculously come to life. A box office winner in its home market of Argentina when it was released last year, Campanella’s The Unbeatables has suffered considerably in translation, with a lot of its humour lost through the distributor’s attempts to appease international audiences (the names of football teams that are referenced have been changed, amongst other things). The fact that the script doesn’t exactly scream originality also doesn’t do The Unbeatables any favours. There’s an element of magic here, and it’s safe to say that a certain degree of disbelief needs to be suspended, but even children may suffer to get much out of this foreign signing.
The very fact that the main bulk of the narrative is bookended by two scenes that show Amadeo, now as an adult, retelling the adventure to his son one night saps out much of the suspense right at the start of the film, as it’s clear that nothing terribly bad happens. The animation, on the other hand, is superb. There’s plenty of dazzling action sequences and neat camera angles that highlight the complexity of it all. But it’s all aimed at kids, with the adults who have been dragged along as money pots likely to be checking their watches for much of The Unbeatables, only to be frustrated further at the slow, unhurried pace with which the drama – or lack of it, thereof – seems to unfold. It’s hard to say what made this such a colossal hit in its home country when presented in this foreign tongue without making any treacherous assumptions, but what’s ultimately delivered can only be classed as essential viewing for those younger, football-obsessed kids. The sooner Campanella returns to adult dramas the better.