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Review: 'Draft Day' has charms that will appeal beyond NFL fandom

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There are two reasons people will want to love Draft Day.

It’s a Kevin Costner sports flick – even if he isn’t portraying the athlete in it. Costner is the king of sports flicks. Crash Davis in Bull Durham. Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams and Roy McAvoy in Tin Cup. It’s almost as if he single handedly invented the subgenre.

The other reason? Everyone likes and underdog and in the world of the NFL, there exists no greater underdog than the Cleveland Browns. The team is the league’s hapless, mangy, flea-infested, fly drawing hound that hangs out around the porch. It’s only fitting that FirstEnergy Stadium, their Sunday home, remains the home of the Dawg Pound.

Those Browns exist in reality – an organization so hapless that it’s gone through a host of general managers and even more head coaches.

In the case of Draft Day, reality is stranger than fiction as the Cleveland Browns that Costner’s Sonny Weaver Jr. has only suffered through a couple of losing seasons in recent years. But there’s little doubt that his ass is on the line with the team’s owner (Frank Langella). That sets the tone for the Ivan Reitman-directed Draft Day, a movie that possesses cross-audience appeal, but has its issues.

That’s because the movie is a mishmash that never quite makes it as a drama or a comedy. It’s of little doubt that it possesses elements of both, but they feel at odds with one another.

Sonny’s facing probably the most significant day of his career as a general manager as he holds the future of his hometown team in his hand.

Go with the stud linebacker from Ohio State (Chadwick Boseman) or the dominant running back (Arian Foster) whose father is a Browns legend?

Then there’s the team owner, Anthony Molina, who wants a splash in the draft. In the NFL, splash equals one position – quarterback – and Molina wants the kid with the golden arm from Wisconsin (Josh Pence). The problem: not everything is what it seems to be with the QB.

Actually nothing is as it seems with any potential player for the Browns. Each has something about them that appears off and Sonny has to spend a day in which he’s learned he’s going to be a father courtesy of his girlfriend and co-worker Ali (Jennifer Garner). That brings a different level of pressure to his day.

Sonny is the movie’s focal point and Costner is the film’s anchor. He makes Sonny a mixture of pragmatism, charm and intelligence and remarkably down-to-earth despite running an NFL team.
Garner is right there with him displaying a nice sense of comedic timing to go with the spunky attitude that she provides for Ali.

The other performer of note? Boseman, who starred as Jackie Robinson in 42 last year. His portrayal of Vontae Mack a linebacker with the ability to blow up quarterbacks is surprising for the depth of emotion he gives the character and the empathy that the audience spends on him.

Reitman directs from a script from Scott Rothman and Clevelander Rajiv Joseph. Reitman’s an old hand at this. He plays to the movie’s strengths and that’s Costner. The authenticity is there and so is a herd of recognizable NFL-related faces.

Ultimately, Draft Day isn’t without its flaws, but overall it proves enjoyable, especially for football fans. But for Browns fans, it possesses heart and professes hope something that the franchise has been living on through all its troubles, including this year with yet more front office changes.

Movie: Draft Day
Director: Ivan Reitman
Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Frank Langella, Chadwick Boseman
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language and sexual references
Running time: 109 minutes
George’s rating: 3-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com

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