Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Draft Day Sticks To Playbook

The experience of seeing Draft Day is something akin to Seattle Seahawks fans re-watching this year's Super Bowl. They know the outcome, yet still enjoy watching the good guys triumph in the end.

In the case of "Draft Day" it's the Cleveland Browns and its fictitious general manager Sonny Weaver Jr., played by a rounded-looking Kevin Costner. Through most of the film we see Weaver grappling with a decision on whether to draft a franchise QB golden boy named Bo Callahan or a lesser-known defensive tackle named Vontae Mack (42's Chadwick Boseman).

Callahan is the consensus choice and Weaver has leveraged the team's future to land him. The team's steely owner, played by Anthony Langella, also wants to "make a splash" and give long-suffering Cleveland football fans a reason to live (ie. buy season tickets). Simple enough choice, right?

Not when Callahan is seen lounging with his slick agent (lamely played by Puffy) while Mack - a glowing halo floating above his head - is shown playing with his nephews at gym class and giving a game ball to his dying sister. Hmm, which will Weaver choose? I'm not sure why director Ivan Reitman (he of Ghostbusters legend) decided to show us the playbook so far in advance because it definitely zaps the film of its tension.

But Costner is the veteran charmer who can be counted on when the game is in question. He sells the procedural with a convincing acting job and has a quality freak-out scene when his mother and ex-wife storm into his office making untimely demands. Why Sonny's mother (Ellen Burstyn) has chosen this day of all days to insist he join her in scattering the ashes of Sonny Sr. at the 50-yard line is not entirely clear.

What is clear is Junior is saddled with more issues than who to select in the draft. His father was the team's coach and Sonny fired him shortly before his death. He's also just learned that a fellow executive and love interest is pregnant. That would be Jennifer Garner, who cuts through the film's overloaded testosterone. There's also a self-absorbed coach (Dennis Leary) who second guesses Weaver's every move.

Go long!
The predictable ending plays out like an elongated version of the two-minute scene from "Moneyball," where Brad Pitt wheels and deals on the telephone. In fact, it must be noted that "Draft Day" often feels like a more sitcom-y version of "Moneyball," which is maybe why the National Football League - famous for refusing to allow its trademarks to be used in films - fully cooperated with this production. This is definitely not a warts-and-all look at the NFL.

There is one particular aspect of "Draft Day," though, that offers a compelling look into the politics behind NFL scouting. If you listen to sports radio shows like ESPN First Take you'll hear endless scrutiny of football prospects like Johnny Manziel or Jadeveon Clowney and it's not always regarding their skill. It's often about their personal character and off-the-field conduct. These players are expected to be perfect humans and they are held to the highest standards by holier than thou team executives and onlooking pundits.

"Draft Day" touches on this part of the going-pro process, but it's only a halftime show amidst Costner's game of winning his career. I wouldn't say "Draft Day" is touchdown of a movie. More like a field goal from about 20 yards out. You know it's most likely going straight through the uprights, but that doesn't detract from its watchability.  

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