'Draft Day' (PG-13)

 

Kevin Costner stars as a football team manager facing a serious deadline.

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By Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Draft Day is a “ticking clock” thriller built around the NFL draft, a movie that counts down to the fateful decision that one embattled general manager (Kevin Costner) makes with his team’s first round pick.

It’s a reasonably interesting — to NFL fans, anyway — peek behind the curtains at the wheeling, dealing and over-thinking that goes on as teams and managers and coaches try to avoid looking as if they don’t know what they’re
doing. They’re nagged into making hasty or ill-advised decisions by agents and the players they represent, and showboating owners who like to “make a splash,” get their faces on ESPN and impress the hometown folks with their football acumen.

The GMs have their own slang and their own swagger, which makes this a natural for Costner, for decades, the movies’ go-to guy for jock roles. But for the casual fan and the casual filmgoer, it can be a bit of a melodramatic bore. This ticking clock thriller doesn’t really get going until the teams are truly “on the clock.”

Costner is Sonny Weaver Jr., GM for the hapless Cleveland Browns. They have an antsy owner (Frank Langella) and a new, preening coach (Denis Leary) who likes to flash his Superbowl ring under everybody’s nose. Will Sonny pick a
cocky, pushy defensive back (Chadwick Boseman of 42) or trade up to land the Heisman Trophy winner (Josh Pence)?

What’s fascinating in these wheeling and dealing early scenes is the way gossip gets started, the way the veteran GMs play each other and read each other. Rumors about the Heisman winner bubble to the surface.

Sports talk radio covers this sort of “How much does he want to play?” stuff from a speculative point of view. Draft Day sets out to show how a Johnny Manziel or Jadaveon Clowney’s stock rises and falls in the hours leading up to their big payday.

What doesn’t work is the added melodrama in all this. Sonny’s dad used to be the Browns’ coach. His dad just died. His mom (Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn) won’t get off his back. And his not-that-secret inter-office romance (Jennifer Garner) just gave him some news

Draft Day is an NFL and ESPN sanctioned dramedy designed to cash in on and maybe goose interest in the draft, which TV and the league have turned into a spring spectacle. It doesn’t have a lot of rough edges to it, nothing unflattering to the league or the cable company in its back pocket, which only serves to remind us how this sport swallowed American sporting culture whole.

Costner and Garner are good and Langella properly menacing, but Leary has lost his fastball and seems to be holding something back in his quarrel scenes with Costner. Costner has to carry the film, which he does. But he hard a time
making this tale of accountants and agents and athletes with off-field issues exciting.

But for the fans, it’s a competent eye-opener, a movie that makes you understand Jets QB Geno Smith’s fury at falling out of the first round and the sort of whispering campaigns that this closed culture of front office folks mount to let them win in May, even if they don’t win in the fall.

Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Chi McBride, Frank Langella.

Director: Ivan Reitman.

Screenwriters: Scott Rothman, Rajiv Joseph.

Producers: Ali Bell, Joe Medjuck.

A Summit Entertainment release. Running time: 109 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations. Playing at area theaters.

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