Fleet-footed docu "Once in a Lifetime" covers the remarkable story of the New York Cosmos, the Harlem Globetrotters of soccer back in the 1970s. Although the team's star player, Pele, declined to be interviewed, original material finds many of the Cosmos' major players and sideliners remembering the club's heyday. While soccer fans will rep the core aud, even non-fans can enjoy. Recently recruited by Miramax for theatrical Stateside, "Lifetime" could score even better abroad as a niche, and hit the back of the net on ancillary.
Well-researched docu goes back to the start of the 1970s, when late Warner Bros. mogul Steve Ross conceived a passion for a game played and loved by millions of people the world over, yet barely known by most Americans. Bringing in Warners-subsidiary Atlantic Records' guiding lights Ahmed and (now deceased) Nesuhi Ertegun for his braintrust, Ross set out to create a glamor team that would break the sport into the U.S. in 1971.
Early players such as Shep Messing and Werner Roth recall the team's dismal Randall's Island home field, and the tiny crowds.
All that changed when Pele -- Brazil's three-time World Cup star -- was signed for $5 million. Media interest, and attendance soared.
As the decade wore on, Ross went on a shopping trip, buying up such stars as German Franz Beckenbauer, Brazilian Carlos Alberto and Brit Rodney Marsh.
The hearty partying team members's tours became notorious for hedonism (sex on planes, etc.), and the Cosmos had a regular table at Studio 54.
Pic gets bogged down in who-said-what and dissed-whom details in its last third, and loses some narrative buoyancy.
Helmers also tone down in these later reels the use of '70s-style split screens that jazz up the pic's opening half and recall old credit montages from sports shows of the era. Although both helmers are Brits, pic feels more tailored to American rather than international viewers.
Soundtrack creates a distracting equivalent of patterned aural wallpaper with well-chosen vintage funk and groove tracks by the likes of Junior Walker and Parliament. Rest of the tech package just fine, reminiscent of upscale TV docs.
Helmer Paul Crowder explained during an onstage Q&A in Berlin that Pele wouldn't be interviewed because of his commitments to the more hagiographic recent docu "Pele Forever."
Camera (color/B&W, HD-to-35mm), Nick Bennett; editor, Crowder; music, Matter; music supervisor, Liz Gallacher; sound (Dolby Digital), Matt Israel. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale Special), Feb. 13, 2006. Running time: 97 MIN.
Narration: Matt Dillon.