For a sports film to call itself successful, it must be able to transcend the sport itself. Can it make sports interesting and entertaining to someone who doesn’t know about it? Can it teach you to care about something you don’t normally care about? This is my cinematic philosophy true of any industry or occupation. Which brings me to director Ivan Reitman’s DRAFT DAY, a football drama that does not move the chains. It’s all “sports, sports, sports, sportsing, sports, rudimentary melodramatic romance, sports, sportsing, sports. ” That may have been a winning formula for MONEYBALL (minus the romance), another sports film that deals with strategy and numbers, but it absolutely does not work here.
As my husband best put it, “this film is based on the preposterous idea that the Cleveland Browns know how to draft.” I’m kidding. But no, really. Browns’ general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (cinematic lunesta Kevin Costner) has got problems: On one of the biggest days of his professional career (NFL draft day), his girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner) announces she’s preggo, his demanding mother Barb (Ellen Burstyn) wants to spread his recently deceased father’s ashes on the practice field, and his team owner boss Anthony Molina (Frank Langella, who doesn’t take his sunglasses off at all during the film) wants to fire him if he doesn’t choose wisely. And not only does he have coach Penn (Denis Leary) breathing down his neck, the entire city of Cleveland is ready to hang him too. No pressure, right?! Already, I’m overselling this. As the clock on-screen ticks away and Sonny’s decision-making-time dwindles, so does the audience’s patience.
Just so we’re clear, and before any internet trolls tell me to get back in the kitchen to make them a sandwich, let it be known I love plenty of good sports films – good being the key word. RUDY, ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, and BRIAN’S SONG are amongst those titles that fit my criteria. I also have a season pass set on my DVR to record REAL SPORTS on HBO (which I regularly weep when I watch). In real life, draft day drama is pumped up by the ESPN commentators. But in this movie, Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph’s script wants you to believe, “this is the craziest, most intense shit ever.” However, they fail at fully immersing us. Despite me not loving his writing style as of late, I think writer-director James L. Brooks would have been better suited to tackle the subject.
Which brings me to Jennifer Garner’s character, Ali. She’s tough. She’s ballsy. She holds her own within the boy’s club of an office. She’s just the type of female character I like to see on screen. Well, almost – she’s still not asserting herself to her boyfriend or his family, who take multiple passive-aggressive swipes at her. Ali also spells out her back story in what can only be described as a verbal diarrhea of exposition to paramour Sonny. He’s gonna have a baby with her – you’d think he’d already know she had to claw her way to the top to prove herself worthy of her salary-cap-manager gig. Production and set designers couldn’t even be bothered to use props to show Ali’s character traits – that’s just how lazy they were with her.
Heck, I would go so far as to say they really fumble the ball with all characters, as the whole thing looks cheap (except Ali’s Louboutins – those were expensive). From moment one, we’re supposed to care about these people when we’ve had no time with them and no genuine moments of character development. JERRY MAGUIRE and ANY GIVEN SUNDAY this ain’t! There’s no quick paced fluidity that the narrative desperately needs and we the audience yearn for. Dialogue is atrocious. Foreshadowing and call-backs are equally terrible. The third act also gets incredibly self-righteous and turns into a whole preachy affair on ethics and morals. And don’t get me started on the film’s editing techniques. Oh shit. You just did! Reitman’s insistence on utilizing wipes and grainy clips of NFL footage to evoke a nostalgic reaction from viewers is cloying and straight up pandering. Sadly, this will work on viewers who love football and trick them into thinking this is a good film about the love of the game (Costner film title pun intended). They stand to hurt the pic, cheapening the look and feel, rather than helping. They were killing my soul.
The lone standouts – and there were only a few – were Ellen Burstyn’s delivery of a joke about Twitter and the character of Rick the intern. It’s almost like you could tell test audiences rallied to see more of him. Plus, it was nice to see real, former Browns players Jim Brown and Bernie Kosar peppering the picture.
1.5 out of 5
DRAFT DAY opens nationwide on April 11.
Courtney Howard is the Senior Editor/ LA Correspondent for VeryAware.com. She also is a contributing writer for ReelVixen.com and ThatsItMommy.com. She resides in Southern California with her husband and perfect little dachshund.