“Draft Day,” the latest directorial outing from “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” helmer Ivan Reitman, is a football movie that plays with about as much pizzazz as a third-string high school quarterback. Revolving around the most pivotal day of the NFL preseason — Draft Day naturally — Kevin Costner headlines a star-studded cast that, try as they might, cannot save this schmaltzy look behind the curtain of pro football.
In typical underdog sports movie fashion, Costner plays Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. Much like in real life, the Cleveland Browns haven’t been an elite football squad since before the new millennium. It doesn’t take an avid Sportscenter viewer, however, to understand that Sonny’s job is to turn his team around and bring in a new player (or players?!) that can give his squad and city of loyal fans a championship title. Yes, even those folks in the cinema audience that think a pigskin is something you can order at the local TGI Fridays are conveniently brought into the world of NFL management through a series of radio snippets and video clips from ESPN anchors. This is also how the audience finds out that Sonny is going to be the main man in charge of making the tough decisions on draft day.
With less than 12 hours and counting to go before the first pick is selected, Sonny has to turn to his colleagues for help. Chief among his aids is Ali (Jennifer Gardner), a money-crunching executive, who also happens to be his girlfriend.
Individually, both Costner and Garner are perfect fits for their roles. Costner, who is no stranger to the sports genre, is equal parts bristly seasoned manager and soft people’s person when it comes to handling potential signees. His character comes from an NFL family, his father even coached the Browns before his death, and Costner is definitely believable as we watch him motor around the front office.
Garner follows up her shining performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” with another strong outing. Whether she is spewing obscure NFL factoids to her predominantly male counterparts or making the newest intern feel at home despite being ridiculed by the entire staff, Gardner is sure to bring in at least a few wives and girlfriends that would have normally left this picture for “Boys Night Out.”
The problem is that first time feature film screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph don’t give either of these lovers very much alone time. In a desperate attempt to pump up the romance in this primarily testosterone-laden film, the screenwriting tandem shmoosh these two characters together as much as possible. With little chemistry between Costner and Garner, it doesn’t take long for the audience to wish Sonny and Ali weren’t so lovey-dovey all of the time.
With so much unnecessary affection, it’s easy to forget about the more pressing matter at hand — the draft! Yet, Sonny and Ali aren’t the only Browns employees out to land a pivotal first round pick by the end of the day. Newly hired head coach Denis Leary (Rescue Me) is equally motivated to bring home a championship ring. The always chippy and unpolished Leary is great for a comedic moment or two, but it would have been nice to see his character used as more than just an occasional punch line.
The same goes for “42” star Chadwick Boseman. He is virtually invisible in the part of a soon-to-be drafted recruit. Unlike his previous sports movie role, this time the talented actor settles for playing a glorified cameo rather than a fully fleshed out character.
Underused talent is the clearest recurring theme of the film, because such notable stars as Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore), Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and Sean Combs (Get Him To The Greek) are all overlooked in favor of a style of storytelling that tries to capture a broad event rather than an intimate perspective.
In his first time back in the director’s seat since 2011’s “No Strings Attached,” Ivan Reitman continues to show just how out of touch he has become since such classic 1980s comedies as “Ghostbusters” and “Meatballs.” With its sappy love story and destined-for-happy-ending screenplay, Reitman not only alienates himself from the die-hard football fans he set out to appeal to, but cuts himself off from any potential female viewers as well. The result plays like it should air on television, not on a giant screen where tickets cost $12.
JaMarcus Russell. Ryan Leaf. Tim Couch. Just like these first round NFL busts, “Draft Day” is best suited for the sidelines. Save your money this week, or go watch “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” for a second time. This flick is destined for the minor league.
By David Morris
Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language and sexual references