Thursday, April 17, 2014

Draft Day

The officially sanctioned NFL paean (and Kevin Costner comeback vehicle) "Draft Day" is almost - but not - slick enough to make you forget you're celebrating a league of medieval barbarism that turns its strongest men into brain-damaged, suicidal vegetables (and does everything in its power to cover it up).

Costner plays the fictitious Cleveland Browns GM Sonny Weaver, Jr., who's conducting a clandestine affair with Ali (Jennifer Garner), the team's salary cap guru. As the picture opens, the Seahawks' GM calls Sonny to offer the #1 pick in this year's draft - and with it, the Wisconsin QB and potential franchise player Bo Callahan (hot-as-fuck Josh Pence) - in exchange for the Browns' next three first-round picks. Despite the crippling cost, Sonny snaps up the pick, enraging his coach (a credibly meat-headed Denis Leary), who wants to give last year's injured QB a chance to run his system now that he's healthy. Meanwhile, an ineffable unease plagues Sonny; his scouts call Callahan a sure thing, but there's something about him that rankles, and Sonny's right-hand man metes out piecemeal intel on Bo (for one, none of his teammates attended his 21st birthday party) that further enervates him. 

Costner undoubtedly hopes a return to the athletic arena will rekindle memories of superior films such as "Bull Durham," but his face barely moves these days, and he can't make the emotional roller coaster of the day's high-stakes machinations real for us. Garner, meanwhile, spouts football lingo and contractual legalese with all her might, but I didn't buy her for a minute; she comes off like a little girl playing dress-up. It's Frank Langella, as the fictional team owner Anthony Molina, who steals the picture, with a no-nonsense performance worthy of award nomination. Molina gets the Browns' role in the league - and doesn't mind being a doormat - but insists that Sonny make a big splash to sell tickets. Director Ivan Reitman pads the two-hour runtime with glossy exterior shots of stadia that belong in brochures for potential buyers. Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman's dialogue is clunky and expository; staffers walk around repeating their job titles so we'll remember who they are. ("How's my favorite strength and conditioning coach?") And where was the editor? We get an entire scene of Sonny apologizing to the new intern for throwing his laptop against a wall: "You didn't deserve that. I'll buy you a new one." 

Some folks, though, will buy anything the league is selling. My friend Adrienne, God bless her, had tears in her eyes at the end. I wonder, though, whether that had anything to do with the sock Costner stuffed strategically in his slacks.

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