film reel image

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Draft Day 2014 * * * Stars

Draft DayDirector: Ivan Reitman
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Kevin Costner, Denis Leary, Jennifer Garner, Frank Langella

As the undisputed king of two word titled movies (The Untouchables, Wyatt Earp, Open Range, Mr. Brooks, Swing Vote, The Bodyguard, The Postman, Night ShiftAmerican Flyers, etc...), Kevin Costner ventures back into sports territory with the NFL endorsed football drama, Draft Day. He's had some success in this genre before with Field of DreamsBull Durham and Tin Cup. He's also had a mishap with the disastrous For Love of the Game. This movie safely, falls into the first category. The National Football League for some odd reason (they usually don't lend a hand to gridiron movie fare), seems highly involved with the making of this breezy April release. And it shows when they have their own people (commissioner Roger Goodell and media members of the NFL network) appear in it to make things as authentic as possible.

Depicting the Cleveland Browns as the NFL team influx, showcasing almost no footage of actual football, and spanning the length of a hectic one day period, Draft Day chronicles Mr. Sonny Weaver, Jr. (the perfect name for an NFL GM). Played by Kevin Costner, Sonny has a lot to think about and he's got a lot on his plate. As the film opens, we find out that his girlfriend (Ali Parker played by Jennifer Garner) and co-worker is pregnant with his child and we know that his dad whom he fired as Browns coach, died a week ago. We also know that the clock is ticking for Sonny because it's the day of the NFL draft (held at New York City's Radio City Music Hall). He's gotta quote unquote "make a splash" by picking the right prospect in quarterback phenom Bo Callahan. Only on the job for roughly two years, Sonny has to make decisions to better the team or he'll be fired by slick owner Harvey Molina (played by Frank Langella). Here's the thing: Sonny would rather choose a defensive player to build his team around. And it doesn't help when he's pulled in a different direction by a fiery coach (Denis Leary as Vince Penn) who seems bent on drafting a tank of a running back. That's the blueprint for Draft Day's relentless pace. Costner's character goes through some serious trials and tribulations before things culminate in a first round announcement for the top pick. My favorite part of the film's two hour running time: the last 15 minutes which are exhilarating and goose bump inducing. Costner confidently shows why he still has the chops to carry a sports flick after all these years.

Now as entertaining as this colorful project is, it's far from perfect. For instance, I didn't buy the relationship between Costner and Garner's characters as romantically inclined. I couldn't get over the fact that they looked like father and daughter (even though they're only about 18 years apart in age). Added to that, they don't have a whole lot of chemistry anyway. And I know it's a PG-13 film, but they only kiss once at the end and don't even hug throughout the entire running time (kinda weird if you ask me). Then there is an additional character in the form of a Browns organizational intern named Rick (played by Griffin Newman). His presence is totally unnecessary and has nothing to do with the film's plot workings. The actor playing him did okay. However, the whole bit came off as a huge distraction. Finally, there was the notion of the camera panning over a football stadium with title cards showing the name of the city and the name of the talked about NFL team belonging to that city. I mean do the filmmakers really think that their audience is that inept when it comes to knowing something about the most popular sport in America? I would hope not.

As far as the cast goes, Jennifer Garner does what she can with an out of place part. She gives it the old college try turning in a typical performance as a character who is always in the habit of giving sage advice. Then there's Denis Leary who surprised me as the cocky Browns head football coach. I didn't think he could pull the role off (based on the trailer), but he's smarmy good and the right actor (in this case) to get all up in Costner's face and clash with him. As for Frank Langella playing the owner of the Cleveland Browns, what can I say, he does an okay job. He's not exactly miscast but any old, seasoned pro with sunglasses could probably pull off his minimal role.

Even with a couple of hiccups along the way, I thought what Draft Day's casting director (John Papsidera) did in general, was pretty impressive. He lobbied for a lot of big names to be included in this vehicle. We get a lot of cameos from athletes/sportscasters (the legendary Jim Brown, the just retired Ray Lewis, and ESPN juggernaut Chris Berman to name a few), a bunch of cameos from well known actors (look for Rosanna Arquette, Sam Elliott, Sean Combs, and Ellen Burstyn), and staunch, real life NFL star Arian Foster taking on a pivotal role as running back Ray Jennings (just think real life NBA basketball player Ray Allen acting in 1998's He Got Game). The huge, notable cast is a pleasant addition serving as the surrounding chaos created for Costner's Weaver, Jr. After seeing the mediocre trailer, I thought none of this would work. But as I always remember, bad trailer: good movie; good trailer: bad movie (all the best parts are in the good trailer you know).

Safe to say that based on what I've just written, it's obvious that Draft Day gets a sure-fire recommendation from me. It is directed by an out-of-the box choice in Ivan Reitman. He's never really shot a sports movie before and it shows. Thankfully, he's got a solid duo of screenwriters (Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman) that sort of bail him out. His films have a vastly entertaining, swiftness to them (just like with this one). Basically a Reitman film goes down smooth like a tall glass of cold iced tea. I am however, a little adhere to him adding in an overload of dialogue scenes divulged from a split-screen technique (that's Brian De Palma's department so Ivan should probably leave that one alone). For the most part though, he makes this ill-timed Spring release all his own (I hope Draft Day does okay at the box office because the NFL draft is not till May). He gives the audience (especially NFL fans like myself) a realistic insight into the GM business via behind the scenes. He also sprinkles a little comic fairy dust making Draft Day a sort of goofy, less tense version of 2011's Moneyball. In fact, he even structures the film similar to his directorial turn three years ago with No Strings Attached. So just think of "Draft" as a little bit Moneyball combined with a PG-13 sports version of the comedic sex romp just mentioned.

Overall, I inferred earlier that there are a few things wrong with Draft Day. They become minimal however when you factor in Kevin Costner's redeeming performance. After a couple of forgettable stints in two 2014 releases (the bland Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and the silly, jumbled 3 Days to Kill), he bounces back here with an assured, relaxed, and effortless turn. It's classic Costner complete all the right Costner mannerisms. He's perfect for this role and the movie almost succeeds entirely because of him. His screen time toward the film's climax is the rocketing highlight and it might cause you to stand up and applaud. Ultimately, if you're a football fan and you want to plan your movie going experience in the form of a draft board, here's an idea: take Draft Day as your no.1 pick this weekend. It's a sure lock!

Written by Jesse Burleson

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