by Tony Medley
Running time 103 minutes.
When a trailer obviously
shows the best lines in a film, it’s a telling indication that the movie
is too bad to stand on its story and filmmaking. That’s the situation
here where the trailer shows a couple of pretty funny scenes. As might
be anticipated by any sophisticated movie fan, they are about the only
two funny scenes in the entire movie.
There are so many things
about this film, a light-hearted look at the start of professional
football, that irritated me that I don’t know where to begin. But let’s
start with Renée Zellweger. Her pursed-lipped persona just doesn’t cut
it here. Watching her look like she just sucked a lemon for the better
part of two hours is too much to take. She needs to find a better facial
The script (sportswriters
Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, neither of whom had ever written a
screenplay before) is filled with what is supposed to be clever repartee
between Dodge Connelly (George Clooney) and Lexie Littleton (Zellweger).
I can think of little that is more dispiriting than listening to wan
attempts at bon mots that fall flat. Of course Brantley and Reilly did
not know that they were working with Clooney to deliver their lines when
they first wrote the script, which saw its first light of day in the
George saw it and,
according to him, rewrote it. Maybe he’s responsible for the lame
dialogue. The Writer’s Guild of America refused him credit, so he
reduced his membership in retaliation. After seeing the film, I don’t
know why anyone would fight to get credit for the screenplay, but, then,
maybe the fact that he actually wants credit for this thing says volumes
about his taste.
Undaunted by a shortage of
comedic talent, George keeps at his sophistic quest of trying to be Cary
Grant. Women like him because they claim he’s attractive. I don’t see
it. When I look at him I see Mickey Mouse. But I’m not a woman and I’m
assured by many of them that this guy is a sex symbol. I’ll just have to
take their word for it. One thing I know is that he doesn’t have the
timing to do Shaw or Tom Stoppard, much less Brantley and Reilly.
Maybe a top director expert
in fast-paced, clever dialogue could have helped, someone like Melvin
Frank (1955’s “The Court Jester” and 1973’s “A Touch of Class”). But
Clooney and Zellweger are stuck with, well, Clooney, who also directed.
To be diplomatic, neither his acting nor his directing in this
constitute George’s finest hours. And he can do good work, witness “Good
Night and Good Luck” (2005). In fact, the crew contains several veterans
of that very good movie.
Then there’s continuity. The climactic scenes are a
professional football game between Dodge’s Duluth Bulldogs and Chicago,
the team of his rival, Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford (John Krasinski,
who gives the best performance in the movie). It’s a game played during
a rainstorm and the field is so muddy that nobody can tell one player
from the other; so bad, in fact that one can’t tell one team from
another. Yet when the game is over, Dodge walks across a completely dry
field; a minor point, maybe, but indicative of the quality of the
The plot is Hollywood balderdash. Instead of
concentrating on the dim dawning of professional football, the film
presents Lexie as a newspaper writer trying to expose Carter as a phony
war hero. In her pursuit she gets romantically involved with him and
Dodge and the start of the NFL takes a back seat.
Which leads to another problem. Dodge is 45
years-old in 1925, which would put his graduation from college around
1901, when college football was in its infancy. There was no such thing
as professional football until the mid-teens, when club teams started to
appear, sponsored by businesses. Yet we are to believe that Dodge has
been playing football for a living all those years, a dubious premise at
Unfortunately, this is such a cartoon that it
provides little of interest, and I am an NFL fan. The facts are that the
NFL was founded in 1920 by George Halas, comprising some of the club
teams. This film is very loosely based on John McNally, who played under
the name “Johnny Blood” so he could retain his college eligibility, but
it also raises memories of Halas hiring Red Grange, who was a college
star at Illinois, to play for his Chicago Bears, an event that provided
great impetus for the ultimate success of the NFL.
There are some interesting supporting performances
by Jonathan Pryce as Crash’s avaricious agent and Stephen Root as a
drunken sportswriter. The cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel and the
production design by Jim Bissell deserve better. In fact, they are so
good that they almost make up for the many deficiencies of this film.
A better film based on the birth of the NFL could
be fascinating. This frivolous effort doesn’t even come close.
April 1, 2008