Ivan Reitman’s “Draft Day”

Draft-Day

four-stars4The NFL Draft takes itself way too seriously. Everyone involved takes themselves way too seriously. Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day inadvertently does a great job of depicting this. It’s like the D-Day of American sports. They have folks who transport team caps individually safeguarded inside sealed clear plastic cubes like the Crown Jewels while our soldiers overseas can’t even regularly secure bulletproof vehicles. This gregarious pomp and circumstance naturally opens the film. You’ll get caught up in the moment and shake your head at it at the same time. That being said, Draft Day, which is not based on a true story, is easily what 2011’s overrated Moneyball should have been, as it’s far more entertaining, not to mention its protagonist has better hair. And being a football fan myself, there was no way I wasn’t going to bite.

Sonny Weaver, Jr. (Kevin Costner, in a role he was long overdue in playing) is the weathered general manager of the Cleveland Browns, who are in rebuilding mode. He is also notorious around those parts for having fired his own father as head coach. The film is set two weeks after Sonny Sr.’s death, and covers the final twelve hours leading up to the 2014 draft, in which the Browns have the seventh-overall pick. Meanwhile, draft prospects like linebacker Vontae Mack (42’s Chadwick Boseman, fake tattoos and all) and running back Ray Jennings (real-life NFL baller Arian Foster), with agents in tow, campaign themselves to Weaver over the phone like politicians. However, the consensus across the board is that Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), stud University of Wisconsin quarterback and potential franchise savior, will go at #1. Weaver, of course, wants him, as does owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella in full self-parody mode), who tells his charge simply to “make a splash” amidst the subtle metaphorical backdrop of a giant waterpark.

Weaver does just that: he makes a blockbuster trade with Seattle Seahawks GM Tom Michaels (Patrick St. Esprit) that will give the Browns the number-one pick in exchange for their next three first-rounders over the next three years, a story that prematurely goes public much to everyone’s chagrin after Mack, essentially Reitman’s version of Rod Tidwell, childishly tweets it. But while Weaver may have locked down his prize, not everyone shares his enthusiasm, notably the team’s incumbent QB, Brian Drew (Tom Welling), and Browns head coach Penn (Denis Leary), who despises rookie quarterbacks and instead wants a running back to bolster his offense.

There isn’t a tremendous amount of depth to begin with in a movie that basically amounts to one big commercial for the NFL— indeed, we also get numerous sweeping pristine shots of empty stadiums with team logos shamelessly splashed across the screen— and is seemingly tailor-made for anyone who enjoys watching endless split-screen cell phone conversations. Reitman still keeps the proceedings engaging and ties up everything beautifully at the end— perhaps a little too neatly— but the second act drags as a sudden controversy regarding Bo Callahan‘s character conveniently emerges (such as why zero of his teammates attended his 21st birthday party), which is treated as some big reveal but instead plays out like an old episode of Perry Mason with an agonizing barrage of annoying back-and-forth questions.

Costner cuts a sympathetic figure without self-aggrandizing as the one man on whose shoulders the future of the franchise rests. He’s at his best when he just talks: the climax is a joy to behold as Weaver works his magic with balletic ease. Jennifer Garner plays Ali Parker, the Browns’ salary-cap lawyer and, in a completely unnecessary subplot, Weaver’s girlfriend who is pregnant with his child, because just being a female character with brains holding her own in a male-dominated organization (a highlight is her scolding an employee who brashly snaps at a young team intern) isn’t enough. Leary is a real treat as the perpetually jaded penthouse-to-outhouse coach who clashes regularly with his boss. He’s certainly more believable in the skipper role than Philip Seymour Hoffman’s woefully-miscast Art Howe.

But for the Browns themselves, a sadsack squad that has had exactly two winning seasons since reentering the league in 1999 and about as much success in the real-life draft (former #1’s Tim Couch and Courtney Brown, anyone?), their loyal yet long-suffering fanbase can hardly be blamed if they elect to stay away from the movie in droves, for it must represent to them nothing more than a celluloid Fantasyland in which all the onscreen wheeling and dealing is seemingly destined to remain Hollywood ending instead of ever becoming fact.

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