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Movie Review: 'Draft Day'

Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner in "Draft Day"
Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner in "Draft Day"
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To some, the NFL draft is one of the most exciting things in the entire football season. There’s nothing particularly complex about it. You have a group of players who eagerly await being picked by one of several teams during multiple rounds of choosing. However, this is merely what the public sees. Behind the scenes, there are a multitude of deals being struck between managers involving trades for positions, picks, and players that will have a major impact on how the selections will take place. With such a situation, there is the potential for a film to tell a suspenseful story of trying to get the best players for a team that’s desperate to get back on their feet, something along the lines of the recent and great sports film “Moneyball,” a film that showed us that the best sports films are about something beyond the game. However, that doesn’t stop some films of the genre from diving right into the sport without taking the time to look at much else.

Draft Day” is such a film, focusing on the manager of the Cleveland Browns, Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner), as he struggles to reorganize his team after a pretty bad season. The NFL draft is merely hours away when Sonny receives a call from the manager of the Seattle Seahawks, offering the first pick in the draft in exchange for their #1 picks for the next three years. It’s a lot to give up, but in his desperation, Sonny takes the offer, leading many to think that he’s obviously going to make the most popular pick, Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), a quarterback that has shown great promise. As the time for his choice comes closer and closer, he finds himself wondering whether Callahan is really the right pick, or if perhaps one of a few other up-and-coming players would be a better addition to his team.

There may be those that will find this to be a pretty interesting topic to make a film about, but be forewarned, if it’s not something you’re really into, you’ll more than likely find yourself bored silly. It’s pretty much as interesting as you would think selecting a football player would be. That is to say, there just isn’t much that goes on in this film of interest outside of the football world. As I’ve already pointed out with “Moneyball,” great sports films usually have a stronger focus than just the sport in question. In that film’s case, we had the fascinating concept of how a baseball team was brought together, using an untested method involving complex calculations, leading to a film that drew in all audience members whether they were interested in sports or not.

With “Draft Day,” the film basically boils down to waiting around for nearly two hours as Sonny tries to come to a final decision as to which player he wants to choose for his team, with a couple of deals thrown in in an attempt to make the film a little more engaging. The problem is that it’s the entire concept of the film that drags it down. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to sit through as dull a film as this where all you can do is wait for a conclusion that can be seen coming from miles away. Unlike with “Moneyball,” there’s nothing to draw in the audiences members that aren’t hardcore sports fans. To be honest, there doesn’t seem to be much here to draw in the fans either.

The screenplay is another one of its major issues. The flat, lifeless dialogue partners rather well with the bland narrative. It’s something of a miracle that writers Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph were able to expand such a simple idea into a nearly two-hour story, which only goes to hurt it further. The stretched-out story gives one the feeling that the film just keeps going and going with no foreseeable end in the future. Even when Sonny finally gets the chance to make his pick, they still find a way to drag it on for several more minutes. It may shock some of you to learn that this was the #1 script on the Black List (the list of best unproduced screenplays) for 2012. My best guess is that it was radically altered before it went into production. That or the voters were very easily impressed.

It’s such a shame too because there’s a pretty good cast involved. Costner is suitable as Sonny. It’s not a particularly great performance, but it gets the job done. The supporting cast includes Jennifer Garner as Sonny’s girlfriend, Ellen Burstyn as his mother, Denis Leary as the Browns’ coach, Frank Langella as the Browns’ owner, and Sam Elliott as Callahan’s former coach (for one whole scene). They all do fine work, but the material lets them down far too much.

“Draft Day” comes to us from director Ivan Reitman, whose name you may remember from such films as “Ghostbusters,” “Ghostbusters II,” “Stripes,” and “Dave.” Unfortunately, he hasn’t made a good film in over 20 years, with “Draft Day” being just another dud in a long line of them that includes “No Strings Attached,” “My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” “Fathers’ Day,” and “Junior.” It’s sad to see that his judgment of material has fallen so low, but I don’t think he’s the one to blame in this situation. It’s unlikely anyone could have taken such a screenplay and made something decent out of it. It’s a bland premise that may have looked fine on paper, but put to film, it simply doesn’t have any pull to it. 2/4 stars.

Starts tonight in theaters everywhere.

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Also be sure to check out my lists of the Best and Worst Films of 2013.

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