Monday, September 8, 2014

Movie Review: Draft Day

Draft Day
Directed by: Ivan Reitman.
Written by: Scott Rothman & Rajiv Joseph.
Starring: Kevin Costner (Sonny Weaver Jr.), Jennifer Garner (Ali), Chadwick Boseman (Vontae Mack), Patrick St. Esprit (Tom Michaels), Chi McBride (Walt Gordon), Terry Crews (Earl Jennings), Arian Foster (Ray Jennings), Frank Langella (Anthony Molina), Denis Leary (Coach Penn), Griffin Newman (Rick the Intern), Sean Combs (Chris Crawford), Josh Pence (Bo Callahan), Ellen Burstyn (Barb Weaver), Tom Welling (Brian Drew).

Draft Day is a sports movie for the sports fanatic who doesn’t this newfound emphasis on analytics – that to them is ruining sports. If you think the people behind Moneyball are just a bunch of nerds – and that you cannot run a team based on spreadsheets, but that you have to based everything on your gut, than Draft Day gives you precisely what you’re looking for. Of course, no one really runs a team in any major sport based solely on spreadsheets – but basing things solely on your gut is even more stupid, and just a fantasy. Draft Day is that fantasy – and although I knew that the whole time, I couldn’t help but be entertained by this old fashioned movie. It has good dialogue, rock solid performances, phony, yet irresistible, sports uplift and director Ivan Reitman isn’t content to simply make a move about a bunch of men sitting in rooms talking look like a movie where a bunch of men are sitting in a room and talking – he does some very strange things with split screens, which wouldn’t work in a more serious film, but somehow works just fine here.

It’s NFL Draft Day, and the hapless Cleveland Browns need to make a splash. The owner, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella, who wears sunglasses no matter where he is) pretty much tells GM Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) that he has to do something big, or hell be fired. So Sonny makes a huge deal – he deals the 7th Overall pick, along with his next two first round picks for the first overall pick. That way, he’ll be able to take Bo Callahan (Josh Pence) – who everyone agrees is a generational player. But Sonny cannot help but want to draft Vonte Mack (Chadwick Boseman) – who would have been available at 7th Overall anyway – and his coach, Penn (Denis Leary) wants to take Ray Jennings (Arian Foster) – a running back, who is also the son of a Cleveland Browns legend. But now that he has first overall, he has to take Callahan, Right?

Draft Day spends almost the entire movie right at Sonny’s side – who has to fight practically everyone in order to get what he wants. Then it piles on Sonny more subplots then he really needs – a recently deceased father, who just happens to be the beloved former coach of the Browns that Sonny fired, a mother (Ellen Burstyn) who wants to scatter his ashes – right now – and a secret girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) who is also the Browns capologist- who shows up to give encouraging words to Sonny whenever the plot demands it.

Yes, the movie is predictable and unbelievable. We know that Sonny will somehow come  out of Draft Day looking like a genius, although in order for that to happen, so many things has to happen that is beyond his control and unbelievable. Yet, in the moment I didn’t really mind it. Costner is one of the most laid back of actors – it made him an ill fit for many of his large scale movies of the 1990s, but makes him a natural in a film like this. He exudes charm, smarts and savvy – and he handles the sub-Sorking-esque dialogue well. So does the rest of the cast really – all of whom seem to know that the movie isn’t really believable, but decide to have fun with it anyway. A particular highlight is the supporting performance by Boseman – who here, along with his performances in 42 and Get on Up – shows that he is a true movie star in the making.

The film was directed by Ivan Reitman – whose best work is a few decades behind him, but he still knows how to make a fast paced movie like this. His use of split screens – which bleed into each other, so actors walk from one panel to the next – is stylistic excess to be sure, but it keeps things interesting (my wife wanted to know if Ang Lee was directing in full Hulk mode).

The film shouldn’t really work, but it does anyway. It coasts on its easy charm – much like its star Costner – so even if it isn’t a great film, it’s still a fun one – even for those who know nothing about the NFL Draft, and couldn’t care less about it.

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