The Austin Chronicle

First Look: Ric Roman Waugh Takes on the NCAA in National Champions

By Richard Whittaker, November 16, 2021, 7:00pm, Picture in Picture

Ric Roman Waugh has never shied away from a fight for justice. In Shot Caller, he explored how the modern American prison makes monsters. In Snitch, it was mandatory minimum sentencing. Even his action flick Angel Has Fallen examined PTSD and intergenerational trauma. His latest, National Champions, is no exception.

Well, not all his films carry a political and social text. His last film, 2020's Greenland, was a new riff on the classic end-of-the-world apocalyptic action flick. But National Champions looks to be taking on a new injustice: the amateur status of college ball players, who sacrifice their bodies with no guarantee of a career afterwards - all while colleges and the NCAA are making millions.

Adapted from Adam Mervis' 2019 play, it's the first sports drama for former stunt performer and coordinator Waugh. In the new trailer, Stephan James (If Beale Street Could Talk) plays Heisman-winner LeMarcus James, a rising star headed to the NFL as a testament to the skills of his coach, James Lazor (the inimitable J.K. Simmons). But on the eve of the national student championship game, he's prepared to upset the whole lucrative applecart, including his own potential fortune, by using his high media profile to call the whole system out.

Here's the first trailer:

And here's the full synopsis:

Three days before the college football national championship game, star quarterback LeMarcus James (Stephan James) and teammate Emmett Sunday (Alexander Ludwig) ignite a player’s strike declaring they won’t compete until all student-athletes are fairly compensated. With billions of dollars at risk and legacies on the line, the stakes could not be higher. Now, with only hours until kickoff, the head coach (J.K. Simmons) and various power brokers (Lil Rel Howery, Tim Blake Nelson, Andrew Bachelor, Jeffrey Donovan, David Koechner, Kristin Chenoweth, Timothy Olyphant, Uzo Aduba) must race against the clock to protect or destroy the prevailing collegiate athletics system.

National Champions opens Dec. 10 from STX Films.

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