To use a football analogy, “Friday Night Lights” is like a third-down play that needs to pick up four yards but gets only two: not bad, but not good enough.

The movie is based on H.G. Bissinger’s book, which tracked a football season in Odessa, Texas, where residents like football in the same way Catherine Zeta-Jones’ stalker “likes” her.

As depicted in the hard-hitting book, Odessans are obsessed with football, at the expense of their morals, their educational system and common sense, but the movie saves its hard hits for the football field.

It focuses on how hard the players work, ignoring the book’s depiction of the sociology of the town and pathology of the coaches (Coach Gaines, as played by Billy Bob Thornton in the film, was a much more complicated guy in the book).

This sort of thing has been done better – in the Tom Cruise movie “All the Right Moves,” for instance.

The “Friday Night Lights” football action is convincingly bone-crunchy, and there’s a beautifully assembled scene in which the future of a season hinges on a coin toss, but it’s hard to get a read on the players, since there are a lot of ’em and they’re all buried under the same uniforms.

Director Peter Berg narrows his focus to four players, but their stories are too generic (the one with the crazy mom, the one with the abusive dad) or too sketchy to make an impact.

The movie’s mistake is that it’s about the players when it should be about the town. That’s what the book was about, because that’s where the real story is (for proof, check out the excellent documentary “Go Tigers,” which takes Bissinger’s idea of following the town behind a high school team and moves it to Ohio).

There was probably no way to turn “Friday Night Lights” into a movie – it’s too complex and too big to contain in anything shorter than a miniseries.

But it should have been possible to retain the essence of the book, which shows that Odessans allowed football to damage and divide their community.

Rated: PG-13 for high school sex, drinking and swearing. Rating: 2 out of 4 stars.


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