Critics put boot into Fifa over 'tribute movie' starring Northern Ireland actor Sam Neill
A big-budget film starring Northern Ireland-born actor Sam Neill is attracting worldwide critical attention - but not in a good way.
Described by The Guardian as "pure theatrical excrement" the film - United Passions - sets out to tell the story of the origins of Fifa, the controversial world soccer governing body.
The film's theatrical release in the USA this week could hardly have had worse timing, coinciding with the arrest of many top Fifa officials in an international corruption probe spearheaded by the FBI, and with the resignation of its President Sepp Blatter, whose long-term domination of Fifa has attracted severe criticism.
In the film, Tyrone-born Neill plays Joao Havelange, the Brazilian Fifa boss who resigned two years ago in a kickback scandal; British star Tim Roth plays Sepp Blatter, while beefy French actor Gerard Depardieu takes the role of Jules Rimet, the man after whom the original World Cup trophy was named. It's believed the now under-fire Blatter had the right to approve the script, which it is claimed radically underplays long-running corruption controversies at the wealthy soccer organisation. Blatter is portrayed throughout as a doughty fighter for truth and justice.
Film critics in America and Britain have not been kind to United Passions, which cost £20m to make - of which Fifa supplied £17m.
"Two hours of wretched, self-congratulatory Fifa history is disastrous cinema, but valuable proof of corporate insanity," wrote Jordan Hoffman in The Guardian.
In the New York Times Dan Berry called the film "an epic fantasy" and wondered about the judgment of spending millions of dollars on what was essentially a vanity project about the working adventures of wealthy soccer administrators.
"The film is called United Passions, but it is not, as the title might suggest, a lusty adventure in the way-too-friendly skies: a lonely flight attendant, a misunderstood pilot...
"No. This is about the succession of men in suits who nurtured the Federation Internationale de Football Association from its idealistic creation a century ago to its current state of monstrosity," he said in a scathing review.
In the Daily Mirror, reviewer Paul Field described United Passions as "unintentional comedy gold".
Neill (67) - who has starred in worldwide cinema successes such as Jurassic Park, as well as TV series like Reilly Ace Of Spies - said yesterday that he had no regrets about his involvement in United Passions.
United Passions has not yet been given a United Kingdom release date.