‘Draft Day’ is Daft, Except as an NFL Infomercial

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CHICAGO – Kevin Costner has defined a career in sports-themed movies. From the Iowa farmer building a baseball diamond in “Field of Dreams,” to “Bull Durham,” to “For the Love of the Game,” he exemplified game day heroics. Yet being an NFL executive in “Draft Day” isn’t quite as exciting.

The problem with this film’s story is like the problem with the NFL – they’ve gotten so rich and powerful they lose perspective on “it’s just a game.” By creating a domestic drama centered around an overzealous day of drafting college players, they’ve gone as far away from the tradition of tough guys like Vince Lombardi as a 90-yard field goal attempt. It’s no good! NOTE: I have a slavish devotion to the sport as entertainment – Go Bears! – I just didn’t like the film.

Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner) is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, responsible for his team’s picks on the NFL’s draft day, which has gone from a modest gathering of executives to a televised spectacle. In the midst of wheeling and dealing, he has a can’t-miss pick for a stud college quarterback, but his instincts are telling him to go toward a defensive linebacker named Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman).

Kevin Costner
Making Browns History: Sonny (Kevin Costner) in ‘Draft Day’
Photo credit: Summit Entertainment

In the meantime, Sonny’s newly hired head coach, Vince Penn (Denis Leary), is on his hide to create a decent team, and the owner of the Browns – Frank Langella as Harvey Molina – is threatening to fire Sonny if he doesn’t make the right pick. To make matters worse, his younger girlfriend and team accountant Ali (Jennifer Garner) has some home front news. Oh, and his mother Barb (Ellen Burstyn) is about to spread his father’s ashes on the team practice field.

If this had been a farce, it could have been a strong satire about professional football obsession and America, but they’re playing it straight. It’s a tough sell as a visual – mostly board rooms and offices – but director Ivan Reitman (a long way from “Stripes”) tries to spice it up with a bit of “Thomas Crown Affair”-style split screen. It’s so oddball it’s hypnotic, but not in good way.

The film doesn’t really explain well the dynamics of the pro football draft, so there is a bit of guessing as to who is mad at who. The wheeling and dealing with other general managers doesn’t play precisely either, as eventually they capitulate to Sonny’s godlike player instincts. The fact that they use real NFL executive suites (but no Bears?) will be uncomfortable for the real fans of these franchises, as the Cleveland Browns deal them under the rug.

Jennifer Garner has two films in a row in which she portrays a hapless flunky to the strong male lead, “Dallas Buyer’s Club” and now “Draft Day.” It’s a lesson in the difficulties for women to find good roles, and her presence will not be enough to satisfy the women who will dragged to the film by their football-loving husbands (if they’re not fans). If I know the NFL, this could be part of their ploy to expand beyond their mostly male audience.

Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner
Love and Football: Sonny and Ali (Jennifer Garner) in ‘Draft Day’
Photo credit: Summit Entertainment

And speaking of the “No Fun League,” could they get any stranger? A domestic drama about college draft day? What’s next, an adventure with the concession stand’s manager? This is a bit too inside, especially when the real commissioner of the NFL, Roger “Concussion, what Concussion?” Goodell portrays himself. Call the Academy Award committee, we have a “Best Supporting Actor” candidate.

I kid, because I know I will be at the bar or in the chair come next football season, worrying about whether Da Bear’s Draft Day choices will perform or not. So shame on me for not bowing to Kevin Costner and “Draft Day,” and shame on us for making the league so rich and powerful they can make this infomercial and call it a night at the movies. Go Bears!

“Draft Day” opens everywhere on April 11th.. Featuring Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Chadwick Boseman, Frank Langella and Ellen Burstyn. Directed by Ivan Reitman. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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