“Who’s the most desperate guy you know?”
You’ve gotta love a prerelease screening Buffalo audience applauding for a skyline aerial of their beloved city and Ralph Wilson Stadium, oblivious to the fact Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph originally composed their Draft Day screenplay to actually take place here before costs initiated a move to Cleveland. I guess it’s nice they threw us a bone (probably swapping us into a part set aside for the Browns) to get the crowd excited because the film itself leaves a lot to be desired. I did have marginal hope after seeing Ivan Reitman‘s name attached as director, thinking perhaps this could end his dismal track record since 1993′s Dave. Alas, what’s billed as a comedic sports drama finds his forte for laughs few and far between while the whole proves little more than a glorified commercial for the NFL.
I can look past this inevitability, though. Football is a huge commodity and anything putting its name and reputation on the line better provide as much exposure as possible. The NFL doesn’t allow people to use the words “Super Bowl” without risk of reprimand anymore, so you know they had employees on set ensuring everything upheld their image. That means every time Reitman takes us to a new city’s general manager we must view their stadium in its shiny glory before watching “Home of the” shoot across the screen above the team’s logo. I’m not sure if any audience member attending wouldn’t know what team plays in Seattle or Kansas City, but you make concessions when you desperately need the league’s complicity for the final work to be relevant. Cooperation comes at a price.
It proves worthwhile too with the authenticity on display spanning those setting the big day up with NFL logos everywhere, Chris Berman instilling ESPN flavor, and the hub-bub surrounding such an auspicious event for two hundred plus college kids hoping for a chance at greatness. Draft Day’s appeal is in this idea of verisimilitude; that we’re going behind the curtain to see the chaos a general manager endures during the twelve hours before a draft. There are the sellers (Patrick St. Esprit’s GM Tom Michaels and Chi McBride’s Seahawks owner Walt Gordon); the buyers (Kevin Costner’s GM Sonny Weaver Jr. and Frank Langella’s Browns owner Anthony Molina); and the vultures/victims caught in their wake. And at the center of everything is top QB prospect Bo Callahan (Josh Pence) along with a mountain of possibilities.
Dare I say there’s actually suspense in all the wheeling and dealing going on during the course of the film? Right from the get-go Michaels is cold calling Weaver in the hopes he may be in a delicate state after his father (a Cleveland coaching legend) passed away the previous week. It’s a solid hypothesis with Weaver’s 5-1 team falling apart after starting QB Brian Drew’s (Tom Welling) season-ending injury put him on the hot seat unless he “makes a splash” at the draft. And while he’s bullied by Michaels and Molina both, phone calls from his heart’s choice (Chadwick Boseman’s linebacker Vontae Mack), his coach’s (Denis Leary’s Penn) choice (Arian Foster’s running back Ray Jennings), and Callahan’s agent (Sean Combs) getting wind Cleveland might takeover the number one pick refuse to allow him a moment of peace.
This is a good thing, though, because the faster the pace the more entertaining it becomes. It’s just unfortunate Reitman decides to make a horrible stylistic misstep by utilizing and dismantling split-screen at the same time. Costner constantly floats out of his box to overlap the character he’s talking to until eventually moving over them from right to left in an effect that’s infinitely worse than any stagnancy leaving them alone may have originally caused. I get that it’s a dialogue-heavy script, but boy does this maneuvering only confuse rather than excite. Thankfully the back and forth of the conversations is interesting enough to try and ignore it as Costner battles through hiccup after hiccup, peanut gallery opinion after opinion, and constant subterfuge by those to whom he’s technically the boss.
While this is fun—especially when Jacksonville’s green GM (Pat Healy) enters the fray and things come full circle with Michaels—a desire to tug at heartstrings causes things to go awry. As if dealing with keeping his job amidst the busiest day for a general manager this side of trade deadline isn’t enough to give Costner’s Weaver gray hair, familial strife rears its head to punch him in the gut. Whether it’s a not-so-discrete affair with a Browns executive (Jennifer Garner’s Ali); a petty, selfish mother (Ellen Burstyn) hijacking the day; or the legacy of a father he feels he’ll never live up to, excessive melodrama that takes us away from the title of the film usurps football movie convention for blatant cliché. Who cares if mommy likes your new girlfriend? Who are you picking?!
This question should have filled the movie by itself. I only found myself invested when the action worked towards answering it because Costner is best when attempting to steal back the control his job description provides. He’s the lynchpin everything revolves around, his short temper blowing more often than not as he maneuvers his way into a situation that makes something as boring as the draft marginally exciting. Brad William Henke and W. Earl Brown provide him nice comic relief while Langella, Leary, and Burstyn supply adequate quasi-antagonists. But the real highlight is Boseman’s heart-on-his-sleeve draftee who is a better player and man than anyone else involved if only GMs are willing to see it. Weaver does, but the job isn’t always that easy when bureaucratic nonsense overshadows the game.
Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 120 minutes | Release Date: April 11th, 2014 (USA)
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Director(s): Ivan Reitman
Writer(s): Scott Rothman & Rajiv Joseph