Monday, April 14, 2014

The Vox Review: Draft Day

Midway through one of the most annoying and unrealistic sports flicks of all time, an ambivalent Mrs. ExVox asked me, "Is this a good movie? I mean...take Cleveland out of it...Is this is a good movie?" I didn't answer because, thankfully, that would be an impossible task. Draft Day wears Cleveland like a badge of honor. Our city is beautifully dressed, from the Eleven River Condos near the Westlake Marina to fist-pumping shots of the C-town skyline and First Energy Stadium.  90% of the movie was filmed in Cleveland, and there's a heartwarming landmark at every turn. I was so giddy seeing Dennis Leary, proud and defiant, in a Browns jacket that the details of DD might as well be insignificant. This is our long overdue moment on the silver screen, considering that the majority of Major League was shot in Milwaukee. Major League, however, benefitted from a funky spirit accentuated by a politically incorrect script. Draft Day, directed by Ivan Reitman, isn't nearly as fun or creative. On a bust scale, it rates somewhere between disaster and dud. For my readers thirsty for real life Browns analogies, think Gerard Warren and Tommy Vardell.

Needless to say, Kevin Costner is pretty darn good at being Kevin Costner. That's not necessarily a compliment or an insult. Costner just has a knack for representing all of his past characters in each new role. Playing beleaguered Browns GM Sonny Weaver Jr., Costner channels the conviction of Crash Davis, the idealism of Ray Kinsella, and the perseverance of Jim Garrison. I would normally say he carries the film, but there's no place to carry it. He's saddled with a ridiculous opening premise...Weaver trades three future first round draft picks to Seattle for the first pick overall, despite the fact that he's not even sure who he'll select! At 59, Costner's onscreen romance with 41-year old Jennifer Garner is almost as far-fetched. Cool Kevin can pull it off, but there's no saving the vapid archetypes surrounding him. Leary, famous for liking football, porno and books about war, spews forced, cliche-laden bravado as Coach Penn. Garner talks a good game, but lacks the tools to be believable. Ellen Burstyn, as Weaver's widowed mom, is a contrived waste of space and dialogue. The bright spots are Josh Pence, in a snarky turn as the projected first overall pick, and his agent, played by Sean Combs with convincing swag.

For all of Draft Day's purported realism, it feels like an advertisement for the NFL and ESPN. Chris Berman kicks off the flick with his grating, tired shtick and Jon Gruden makes a cameo or twoservin' up his trademark bland blather and droppin' any G at the end of a word. The fact that Commissioner Roger Goodell makes an appearance is a testament to the film's safe, vanilla themes; after all, would Goodell have signed off on any script that dared to truly examine the boundaries of pro football—a la Any Given Sunday? Draft Day's supposed baseball counterpart, 2012's Moneyball, was much more nuanced and truthful even with it's MLB license. The mood of Moneyball is accurately stark and melancholy, while Draft Day is at the opposite extreme with it's lighthearted, sappy overtones. That's not to say Draft Day fails because it's a romantic comedy disguised as a football drama. No, Draft Day is a victim of its own shallowness. Like most characters in DD, NFL General Managers are presented as exaggerated stereotypes. Even at the film's semi-entertaining climax, Jacksonville's naive GM is the intellectual equivalent of Rick Moranis in Reitman's Ghostbusters—eager to be maneuvered and hoodwinked for the sake of the plot.

I felt a pulsating tension in the theater during Draft Day that reminded me of seeing 1986's Howard the Duck, a worse than forgettable motion picture based in Cleveland. Lea Thomson sported a WMMS Buzzard sticker on her backpack and the Severance Mall crowd erupted with prideful cheers. It was a similar vibe during the equally-awful Light of Day, an intense 1987 drama about a blue-collar Cleveland bar band. See, we were ready to buy-in despite the artistic pile of shit that was shoveled at us. Moviegoers were seemingly on edge during Draft Day, maybe because of what's at stake at the actual upcoming NFL Draft. The film offers some uncanny parallels to the Browns' current situation. Does Sonny Weaver stay with Brian Drew, his current, gritty, modest-armed signal caller coming off an injury, and surround him with elite talent or does he dump his game-manager QB and rebuild with Wisconsin's All American consensus stud. Bo Callahan. Surely, new Browns GM Ray Farmer faces a similar dilemma with Brian Hoyer and the all-important fourth pick that could land a top college quarterback. I won't spoil Draft Day by revealing Sonny Weaver's decision, but I'll use this space to lobby for the following to happen on May 8...

"With the 4th Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select"...ANYONE BUT A QUARTERBACK!