- - Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nothing could signal the triumph of football as the national sport more than the appearance of “Draft Day” so close to the opening of baseball season.

Adding to the ignominy is the presence of Kevin Costner, the patron saint of baseball movies, in the lead role as a football general manager.

Even so, there’s not that much actual football in “Draft Day.” As is increasingly the case in sports movies, the film doesn’t glorify the exploits of athletes on the field, but turns its gaze on the front office, making heroes out of the executives who draft the players and write the contracts.

Mr. Costner plays Sonny Weaver, a particularly vulnerable GM, with angry sports radio hosts calling for his ouster because of his team’s lack of success and because of a perhaps ill-considered decision to fire the team’s legendary head coach, who happened to be Sonny’s father.

To further complicate the situation, Sonny doesn’t get along with the new coach (played by Denis Leary), and his secret liaison with team lawyer Ali (Jennifer Garner) has led to a pregnancy, complicating their relationship.

It’s a bizarre mix of family drama and corporate intrigue set against the backdrop of the slick and profoundly uninteresting spectacle of the televised NFL draft.

What’s especially strange about the movie is that Sonny really doesn’t seem to be very good at his job. He was fast-tracked into a high-profile business because of family connections, but he doesn’t appear to have the management or analytical skills required to identify and field a winning team.

But Mr. Costner, looking astonishingly youthful, brings an appealing modesty to the part, and the script doesn’t dwell over much on the question of nepotism or competence. At the same time, “Draft Day” doesn’t appear to have a lot of faith in its own competence. There are frequent sections of exposition that might serve to orient a viewer who wakes up midway through the film on a long flight.

“Draft Day’ also isn’t very interested in football. There are only a few brief snippets of on-field action, taken from game film being used to evaluate players. Far more screen time is given to the bloviating of real world sports pundits. Perhaps more telling, the usually animated Mr. Leary delivers the most lackluster performance of his movie career. The highly watchable manic energy he usually brings to the screen is replaced here by a kind of uncomfortable grimace, projecting the averageness of the movie.

For a sports movie, there isn’t that much to cheer for in “Draft Day.” There’s some money and prestige at stake for the few players we’re introduced to, but ultimately the worst thing that can happen to them is that they will get to play pro football for a team other than the Cleveland Browns. This, even the most casual football fan knows, is no great setback.

TITLE: “Draft Day”

CREDITS: Directed by Ivan Reitman; written by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph

RATING: PG-13 for language

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes


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