Draft Day

It takes too many overwritten detours along the way, akin to the onslaught of commercial breaks one encounters when trying to watch a game on Sunday afternoon.

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BY RYAN MILOWICKI

Isn’t it delightfully fitting that a movie about the Cleveland Browns neglects to show the team play a snap? Such is the blind optimism which pervades the entirety of Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day.

The film is never quite sure if wants to be a sports comedy, an office drama, or a romantic character piece, and this muddled confusion dilutes the end product as a result. When it sticks to football, the film has energy and is extremely watchable. However, it takes too many overwritten detours along the way, akin to the onslaught of commercial breaks one encounters when trying to watch a game on Sunday afternoon.

Following years of continued disappointment, the Cleveland Browns find themselves with a crucial opportunity to improve their future hopes when they acquire the first pick in the NFL Draft via a trade. Given just ten hours to determine how to use the coveted pick, General Manager Sonny Weaver, Jr. (Kevin Costner) must work quickly to figure out the best course of action to save his own job and bring hope of winning football back to Cleveland. Complicating this process are three promising players to consider with varying talents and personalities, as well as Sonny’s complicated relationship with his assistant Ali (Jennifer Garner).

If my math is correct, this is Costner’s fifth time starring in a sports movie. While this is his first time not appearing as an actual athlete, he doesn’t exactly stray far from his comfort zone. The lack of emotional fire from Costner’s characters usually comes across as going through the motions on his part, and at times in Draft Day, he tiptoes that line delicately. People who hate Costner (and I know there are plenty out there) are unlikely to be persuaded otherwise by this film, but his reasonable chemistry with Garner goes a long way to prevent us from being bored by taking him too seriously.

To Reitman’s credit, he was able to amass a significant swath of star talent. In addition to Costner and Garner’s leads, the film features Denis Leary (The Amazing Spider-Man) as the recently-hired Browns coach, Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) as the grumpy Browns owner, Ellen Burstyn (Requiem For A Dream) as Costner’s mother, Tom Welling (Smallville) as an aging quarterback, and even P. Diddy himself as a high-profile sports agent. As for the hopeful draftees, Chadwick Boseman (42) and NFL superstar Arian Foster are familiar faces having a great deal of fun.

Perhaps it is because of this stacked cast that the film has way too much going on at all times. Reitman had this same problem in his last film, No Strings Attached. With recognizable stars playing nearly every role of importance, the story feels obligated to give each actor their fair share of screentime, adding unnecessary layers of complexity and pushing the runtime to 110 minutes. Whereas an ensemble cast director like Wes Anderson handles his recruited talent mostly through cameo and a myriad of tiny yet memorable roles, Reitman and his writing team try too hard to give characters extra dimensions. This is a valiant endeavor, but it works poorly in a film of this caliber.

Fortunately for Draft Day, it is in the capable hands of Reitman, best known as the director of Ghostbusters and Stripes. The ten hours between the draft pick trade and the draft itself comprise the entirety of the film, so the visual style of Draft Day complements the necessarily frantic pace of the narrative. With most of the “action” taking place over a phone call, Reitman uses split-screen liberally to give viewers a glimpse at both sides of the negotiations.

There are some cool visuals employed throughout the film to distract from the inferior story as well. From characters crossing between the boundaries of the split-screen to gorgeous flyby shots of all the relevant NFL stadiums, it is objectively an aesthetically-pleasing film.

The bizarre screenplay is what ultimately dooms this film to mediocrity. The premise itself is interesting, and with the amount of talent Reitman was able to trot out, the potential was there to make a truly fun ride. However, the juxtaposition of stale jokes (mainly revolving around the mostly-male front office handling the notion that Garner’s character is an avid sports fan) with half-hearted attempts at familial melodrama and work-related shouting matches prove to be too convoluted to make coherent sense.

I wish that Draft Day focused entirely on the nuances of the titular occasion, because my interest was certainly piqued by plenty of the scenes in the movie. That being said, by not giving full attention to football-related incidences, a great deal of plot conveniences make the draft itself seem more than a little implausible. I realize that a change of this nature would make it less marketable to non-sports fans, but why would you make a sports film if not to excite the hardcore crowd?

RYAN’s RATING: 2 Stars out of 4

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