Your KC Chiefs Examiner decided to take in a flick this weekend and, because he was wanting a little NFL action, went to see the new movie, “Draft Day” which opened last Thursday. Aside from the fact that it is a thoroughly enjoyable – but predictable – movie, the reason I decided to write a little Examiner piece about it is because of the reaction Kansas City Chiefs fans in the theater had during the two-hour love letter to the National Football League.
One thing that kept running through my mind throughout the movie is that no matter how nit-picky I could get with plot holes big enough to drive a semi-truck through, this movie will be an instant hit with most NFL fans. Think of a lesser-grade “Moneyball”, only with pigskins.
“Draft Day” stars the god of all sports movies, Kevin Costner (American Flyers, Bull Durham, Tin Cup, For The Love of The Game, and the best of them all, Field of Dreams), as Sonny Weaver Jr., the GM of the Cleveland Browns.
Sonny is sitting on the hottest of hot seats with a city and organization that can’t stop comparing him to his recently deceased father, an iconic and legendary head coach of the Browns (think Tom Landry of the Cowboys or Miami’s Don Shula). Or at least he WAS until Sonny fired him in the off-season. Yes … Sonny fired his own father which makes him the villain for Browns fans and some people inside the organization. In a touching scene later on in the movie, you discover why Sonny did it.
The film opens on the morning of the NFL Draft and Sonny Jr. is having a really bad day. His co-worker – and secret girlfriend – Ali (Jennifer Garner), has just informed him that she is pregnant. Sonny is still reeling from his father's death earlier that week, so he is dealing with grief for his father and guilt over Ali’s pregnancy and their hush-hush romance.
The Brown’s owner, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), a Jerry Jones-wannabe, informs Sonny that he needs to “make a splash” in the upcoming draft or he will be looking for a new job. Cleveland has the seventh pick of the draft and Sonny wants to take game-changing linebacker, Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman of 42) with the pick. Unfortunately for Sonny, Molina icily informs Sonny that defensive players “don’t make splashes” right before he turns and walks away. Brrrrr ….
Further complicating Sonny’s draft predicament is that the best running back prospect in football, Ray Jennings (real-life RB Arian Foster of the Houston Texans in his first acting role) constantly phones Sonny pleading with him to select him with the seventh pick. Seems Ray’s father Earl (Terry Crews) played his entire Hall-of-Fame-like career in Cleveland. For Chiefs fans, imagine if Len Dawson had a kid that played football at a position the Chiefs really needed to fill.
Cleveland’s new head coach, Coach Penn (Denis Leary) is obsessed with getting Jennings to run his new offense and spends most of the movie telling anyone within ear shot that Jennings is the ONLY pick they should make. He also spends most of the movie flashing the gaudy Super Bowl ring that he won coaching Dallas a couple of years earlier in everyone’s face. Penn is about as subtle as a heart attack.
In response to all this, a desperate Sonny makes a trade with the Seattle Seahawks for the #1 overall pick of the draft and the rights to pick the draft's consensus elite franchise quarterback, Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). The problem arises when Sonny gets fleeced by the Seahawks GM in the trade by giving Seattle the Browns’ next three #1 draft picks.
This draws the ire and venom of Coach Penn, who immediately plots behind Sonny’s back to make another trade to get some draft picks back AND draft his prized running back. Hilarity ensues ….
That, Chiefs fans, is a summary of the first 15 minutes of the movie. Once Sonny makes the trade, the viewers are taken behind the scenes of how an NFL team handles the pressures of draft day. They also get a peek into the mental minefield that Sonny must navigate when his gut tells him that the can’t-miss quarterback he just stuck the franchise with may be more like Ryan Leaf than Peyton Manning.
Sonny’s phone rings non-stop until the movie’s climax later that evening in New York City, and if your favorite part of “Moneyball” were the scenes when Brad Pitt was working the phones to make trades, you might experience the Rapture while watching “Draft Day”.
Let me be brutally honest right up front. This movie’s script makes leaps of logic so high it would make an Olympic pole vault champion envious. The screenwriters are most likely a couple of frustrated fantasy football players because the way Sonny and the other GMs toss around draft picks and players would only happen in a make-believe world – or in the fevered mind of a fantasy football nerd. Even Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a notorious draft day wheeler and dealer in the real world, probably thinks this movie is over the top.
It is also one of those movies where you figure out what is going to happen at the end about a half-hour into it. The nice-and-tidy bow that director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Meatballs, Stripes, Dave) wraps the action up with at the end of the day is far too convenient.
Furthermore, in our world of excessive product placement in TV and movies, this one might take the cake. The Sara Lee cake, that is. There is hardly a scene in the movie that doesn’t have some product to sell in it. ESPN, The NFL Network, Samsung, Papa John’s pizza, Windows 8, and GMC trucks are just a few of the brands that get significant screen time.
Finally, because “Draft Day” has the obvious blessings (financial or otherwise) of the NFL to use their team logos and archival player footage, every character in the movie seems like they should have the NFL shield logo tattooed on their cheeks. BOTH sets of cheeks.
However, to be brutally honest again … I didn’t care one bit.
In Reitman’s experienced comedic hands, this is a movie that every NFL fan will enjoy and even non-football fans can like. Costner and Garner have a good chemistry and I could even buy their romance, despite their age difference. Garner nearly steals the movie as the team’s “salary capologist”. She is smarter, more confident and more knowledgeable about football than almost every man in the movie. And … she’s Jennifer Garner, for gosh sake’s! Nerd heaven.
Langella and Leary make for wonderfully charming (and smarmy) foes for Costner’s Sonny, and the cameos by current and past pro football players, as well as every major talent on The NFL Network (owned by the NFL, of course) makes it a dream for NFL fans.
However, what got the crowd at my theater jazzed was Reitman’s cinematography that showcased several NFL teams’ cities, stadiums and offices. When a gorgeous shot of the Kansas City downtown skyline and then Arrowhead Stadium flashed up on the screen, most of the 50 or so people in my audience cheered. The shot was THAT cool. Even a shot of the Chiefs practice facility elicited applause.
The scene suddenly shifted to the inside of the Chiefs offices and fictional Kansas City GM Pete Begler (Wallace Langham, CSI) dressed in his tailored suit with a Chiefs helmet pin attached prominently to his lapel. (Imagine the dapper Begler as Carl Peterson and not Scott Pioli or John Dorsey, Chiefs fans.) Because it was the real offices at One Arrowhead Drive, the walls were lined with pictures of Chiefs past and present. Sweet!
When Begler phones Sonny about what it would take for KC to get Cleveland’s now-irrelevant starting QB Brian Drew (Smallville’s Tom Welling) the crowd in the theater sensing an Alex Smith-like deal laughed out loud. I have to admit, the scene was wonderfully ironic and I give total props to the gentleman sitting behind me for joking to his wife, “Well if he’s trying to pick up another QB, I guess we know that’s’ not supposed to be Scott Pioli, right?”
The other cool part that Chiefs fans will enjoy is when the film shifts its focus to the Draft in NYC. Reitman filmed those scenes at last year’s event when the Chiefs had the first pick of the draft, so the Chiefs red and gold colors are much more prominent than what you normally see at the draft. Plus, you’ll catch more than one “Leon Sandcastle” outfits in the crowd shots.
“Draft Day” is far from a perfect movie and the cinematography used throughout the film is not everyone’s cup of tea. The moving split-screen shots showing two characters talking to each other on the phone was jarring to watch for some people in the audience. However, on a rainy weekend where the KC Royals got swept by a bad Minnesota Twins team on the road, it was nice to get an NFL fix to hold me over until the real Draft on May 8-10.
I give “Draft Day” 3-1/2 stars out of 5 because I’m a big football nerd. Normal humans would probably give it 2-1/2 to three.
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