Tuesday, January 22

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Clooney fails to score with Leatherheads

by Chase Evans

Leatherheads was co-written by Rick Reilly and Duncan Brantley - Reilly a Sports Illustrated columnist and Brantley the former caretaker of Steven Spielberg’s estate. In fact, most of Leatherheads was written in Spielberg’s house. The screenplay bounced around for about 15 years until director/leading man George Clooney tweaked it and set things into motion.

The movie is inspired by, but not necessarily based upon, the birth of professional football in the U.S. The names are fictional, and liberties are certainly taken but the movie isn’t trying to provide a history lesson.

Clooney, John Krasinski (Jim from The Office), and Renee Zellweger provide the bulk of the story. Clooney plays Dodge Connelly, the old-school pro football player and Krasinski is Carter Rutherford, the attractive, young war hero and college football star at Princeton. Zellweger is Lexie Litleton, the “take no crap” reporter assigned to find out the truth behind Krasinski’s supposed war heroics.

Connelly wants to use Rutherford’s star appeal to save the sport that has become his life. Pro teams are dropping like flies and many of the soon–to-be former players have no marketable job skills. But Connelly finds the solution to his problems in Rutherford. At this point in sports history, college football is king and pro ball is drawing about as many fans as a high school tennis match. Connelly figures if he can convince Rutherford to play for his team, he could single-handedly save the sport and his job.

Rutherford is an exceptional football player, but much of his fame is due to the story of how he singlehandedly forced an entire German platoon to surrender . That is where Littleton comes in. She presents herself as a sports writer looking for a good fluff story about the boy wonder, but her real assignment is to get the dirt on Rutherford’s war story. Her newspaper is tipped off by a man who served with Rutherford, claiming the football star isn’t the hero people believe him to be. Of course, a love triangle emerges between the three main characters as Rutherford and Connelly vie for Littleton’s affection.

Leatherheads suffers from a serious identity crisis. It’s all over the places starting out as a bubbly period piece before turning into a story about the birth of professional football. Before we have time to digest the football history, we’re watching a romantic comedy. While being jerked from one plot line to the next, we are supposed to care about Rutherford’s potentially deceptive war tactics.

While there are too many plot lines, they aren’t all bad. The scenes, depicting the emergence of pro football as a legitimate sport, are interesting and well-presented. Unfortunately, there isn’t as much time devoted to the topic as there should be. The conflict involving Rutherford’s inner struggles about his war record is worthwhile. In fact, the product of that story line is the film’s only multi-dimensional character - Krasinski’s Rutherford). Both stories are worth exploring, but not in the same film.

So what didn’t work?

Clooney and Zellwegger, both separately and together.

Together they form a romance that is flat and undeveloped and while they have some good scenes early on, the romance feels rushed and unauthentic. Separately, Clooney has created this character (Dodge Connelly) who is hard to root for. His Connelly is shallow and has few redeeming qualities. Zellwegger’s Littleton starts out charming but turns obnoxious. As the film wears on, so does she.

Leatherheads seems to have been too box office-conscious to fully commit to a singular story line, and you can likely blame Clooney’s direction for that. The portions of this movie that focus on the origins of what has become America’s most popular sport are phenomenal and this could have become a classic for sports buffs and football fanatics. Unfortunately, this sports movie set in the 1920s wasn’t good enough for those focused on turning a profit.

But Leatherheads isn’t all bad. The actual in-game football action is fun and occasionally funny. It should also be noted that the 1920s feel was very well executed via wardrobe and cinematography. All in all, it is a fun film without much substance.

If you’re looking for a flick full of hard-hitting football action or an in-depth explanation of the origins of professional football, look again.

There was potential for a touchdown but Leatherheads feels more like a four yard gain so it gets a C.

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