Thursday, April 10, 2014

Football drama doesn't hit hard enough

Kevin Costner returns to sports, but Draft Day doesn't score big.
I suppose it was only a matter of time until Kevin Costner -- having dealt with baseball (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and For Love of the Game) and golf (Tin Cup) -- turned his attention to football.

In Draft Day -- an Ivan Reitman-directed story set in Cleveland -- Costner plays Sonny Weaver, general manager of the beleaguered Cleveland Browns.

Sonny's struggling to establish his legitimacy. He's the son of a late Browns coach who was revered by one and all, but who was fired by Sonny toward the end of his career.

Sonny, who has the number one pick in the draft, has his eye on a great defensive player (Chadwick Boseman) and a running back with a troubled past (Adrian Foster).

The team's owner (Frank Langella) and just about everyone else wants Sonny to draft a hot-shot quarterback (Josh Pence).

The movie evolves over the course of one draft day, leading up to the moment when general managers must make their picks.

The big question: Will Sonny follow his instincts or try to appease Cleveland's discontented fans?

Sonny's personal life adds further complications. His girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) -- who handles the team's salary cap -- happens to be pregnant.

No faulting Costner who's convincing as a man trying to navigate a difficult course. But Draft Day could have used more kick.

In what appears to be an overzealous search of authenticity, Reitman populates Draft Day with NFL types, ESPN stalwarts and anyone else who can make the proceedings feel real.

It's possible that screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph wanted to give Draft Day inside-football appeal, but at times the movie seems to be looking for the NFL's seal of approval. This is not football's Moneyball.

The GMs wheel and deal, and try to out-maneuver one another, but there's little in Draft Day that can be read as critical of the NFL, an organization that doesn't exactly welcome criticism.

It has been 15 years since Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday (1999), but it's almost as if Draft Day was conceived as an antidote for Stone's cynicism.

Cynicism among players in Draft Day proves equally scarce. For that, you'll have to go back to North Dallas Forty (1979), possibly the best football movie yet.

The supporting cast doesn't have a lot to do except try to look savvy. Denis Leary signs on as the coach of the Browns, another guy who wants Costner to draft a quarterback.

And if you're looking for incongruity try this: Ellen Burstyn -- hardly an actress you expect to see in a sports movie -- plays Sonny's mother.

I don't know how wise it is to make a football movie in which the bulk of the action takes over telephones. But for me, it wasn't the grunt of hard-hitting that I missed, but the high, lofty spiral of critical analysis that might have made Draft Day more socially relevant.

When it comes to attitude and a strong point of view -- invaluable in a contempoary sports movie -- Draft Day fails to put enough spin on the ball.

No comments: