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If you’ve ever wondered what a sports flick directed by Michael Bay would look like, wonder no more. Director Danny Cannon’s Goal! The Dream Begins uses every trick in the action-porn book to tell the improbable story of Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker), a young man of Mexican origin and Los Angeles residence who works on a gardening crew by day, toils as a cook by night, and plays soccer every second in between. While competing against a local club team, Santiago catches the eye of an ex–Newcastle United player and former scout, Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane), who declares that Santiago has the goods to play in the English Premier League. There’s no doubt that, despite the asthma, the vaguely racist teammate, and the father (Tony Plana) who didn’t sneak his family across the border so his son could chase pipe dreams, Santiago will get to England, make the team, snag the girl, and play an important role in Newcastle’s final game—and that it will all unfold with music-video grandiosity. Each contrivance is wrung for every last drop of drama, but Cannon needs the distractions to keep his audience from asking too many questions. Foremost is why a player of Santiago’s supposed caliber couldn’t score a contract with a half-dozen more-conveniently located and almost as well-paying leagues, including one with a team in his own backyard. Viewers will also find themselves speculating about how many montages a movie really needs: Should Cannon have axed the money-saving one, the training-with-the-squad one, or the running-on-the-beach one? Good thing the cinematography is mesmerically lavish, Becker has heartthrob written all over him, and just about all of the women, including Santiago’s love interest, Roz (Anna Friel), look as if they’ve walked off the pages of FHM. The game sequences, which use real stadiums and real players, such as Newcastle cornerstone Alan Shearer, give the film enough verisimilitude to satisfy soccer fans, and Alessandro Nivola is terrific as Gavin Harris, a high-priced, late-season transfer brought in by Newcastle who’s one of the few characters to rise above caricature. But it’s the pre-game scenes that are Goal!’s heart and soul: All slo-mo, Britpop, and blood-pumping, they’re nothing less—or more—than Armageddon on the soccer pitch. —Huan Hsu