© 2008 Ray Wong
Mostly known for his dramatic roles such as Michael Clayton (for which he earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination) and directorial efforts such as Good Night, Good Luck, George Clooney ventures into the realm of comedy with mixed results.
The year is 1925. Dodge Connelly (George Clooney) is a 45-year-old pro football player trying to make ends meet and keeping his teammates employed. Back then, being a "pro" means someone's being paid to play a game that is no more glamorous than a cockfight or a circus act. When the Duluth Bulldog disbands because its last sponsor pulls out, Dodge is laid off. Without any other skills, he can't find a job and he's down to hist last pennies. That's when he gets an idea.
The idea is to legitimize pro football and make it an national spectator sport much like baseball, and Dodge knows college football star Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) is just the right man to make that happen. A WWI hero, Carter constantly draws thousands of fans to his games. Dodge promises Carter and his manager, CC Frazier (Jonathan Pryce), $5000 a game if Carter plays for Duluth. And he's right. Carter's celebrity helps propel pro football into the national spotlight.
Meanwhile, reporter Lexie (Renée Zellweger) is doing a story on Carter, but she has an ulterior motive. She knows there's more to the story of Carter's heroic act. Her ambition comes into conflict with Dodge's plans, while Carter is becoming very fond of her despite their age difference. Dodge is not willing to expose Lexie because he, too, is enamored of Lexie.
George Clooney (Michael Clayton) is a true movie star in every sense of the word. His Cary Grant-esque charm and suaveness make Dodge a dashing leading role. Not known for his comedic work, Clooney does well in drawing us in with his sometimes over the top performance. John Krasinki (License to Wed) is all earnest and charming as the young football star-war hero. He's still playing the same character as he does as Jim in the Office, though -- the all-American unassuming guy next door.
The weakest link in the trio of leads is Renée Zellweger (Miss Potter). She's supposed to be ambitious, no-hold-bar, and practically a bitch. She comes across as simply confusing. I can't decide whether I should like her. Not to mention she and Clooney or Kcrasinski have no chemistry together. I just don't buy the romance between Lexie and Dodge.
The supporting cast is generally good, including dependable Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean) as Carter's cunning business manager. Stephen Root (Drilbit Taylor) is his usual loving goof as Dodge's partner Suds, and Wayne Duvall (In the Valley of Elah) is goofily lovely as Dodge's coach, Frank. The motley crew of football players are also up to the task in their physical acts.
The screenplay by first-time screenwriters Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly follows the typical screwball comedy formula, reminiscent of classics such as Some Like It Hot and The Sting. As a period comedy about the humble beginning of pro football, the story misses the mark, however, in giving us a relevant social commentary. It should have been a fascinating topic, a look into the past of the sports, but what comes out is nothing more than an excuse to see George Clooney kissing a girl and getting into brawls.
The banter between the characters, especially between Lexie and Dodge, sounds forced and unnatural: Zellweger seems to just dole out the barbed insults out of necessity (or as instructed by the script). The plot never rises above the banality of the situations -- often, it feels irrelevant. The plot falters toward the end, culminating in a climax that feels flat. Even though we spend a lot of time with the characters, we don't really know much about them (Carter's character is the least developed). And at the end, we really don't care about what happens to them.
Clooney (Good Night, Good Luck) is a good director, and he has proven that he can do some amazing things behind the scene. He succeeded in giving us a riveting commentary with Good Night, Good Luck while receding into the background, playing a secondary role. Here, he struggles as he juggles between the director's chair and the leading man's pedestal. The set, costume, and production designs are excellent, and the film has a great 20s look and feel. The cinematography is pleasant and the music appropriate. Everything fits well together, except the script and the leading lady. There's just something about Renée's squint. Leatherheads is entertaining enough but too irrelevant to really turn our heads.
Stars: George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Root, Wayne Duvall
Director: George Clooney
Writers: Duncan Brantley, Rick Reilly
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 6
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 6.7 out of 10