Soccer is a game of low scoring and long stretches during which little appears to be happening, but in the brash new fish-out-of-water comedy/drama Green Street Hooligans, it's filmed and hyper-edited to resemble a kinetic blur of nonstop action. The film's fight scenes are staged in the same way, with an eye toward maximum visceral impact and MTV-style cutting. These sequences rank as the best in the film—they capture the exciting, scary madness of being immersed in an intense subculture that's foreign to its protagonist on multiple levels.
Putting his almost preternaturally soulful eyes and aura of beatific innocence to good use, Elijah Wood stars as an enterprising Harvard journalism student who is kicked out of school after taking the fall for his foppish, politically connected roommate when authorities find cocaine in their room. Looking to make a fresh start, Wood visits sister Claire Forlani across the pond and quickly becomes enamored of the rough-and-tumble world of soccer hooligans. Trading in his bookish old persona for a sporty, violent new one, Wood throws himself into soccer hooliganism, but his old life comes back to haunt him in unexpectedly moronic ways.
Green Street Hooligans is at its best when it's dealing with Wood's dizzying initiation into soccer hooliganism, and its early fight scenes crackle with a caffeinated electricity. But it loses its superficial charm during a labored third act that gets bogged down in tired, groan-inducing subplots, including a capper to the Harvard/coke scandal that ends the film on an unconvincing note. The film boasts an engaging central plot in Wood's unlikely descent into rowdy behavior, but by the time it's juggling threads involving a violent patriarch out to avenge his son's tragic death, a hooligan legend tempted to return to his old life, and several others—most egregiously, the insulting Harvard wraparound—it's long since lost its way.