07 April 2008

Leatherheads

Leatherheads (2008)
Directed by George Clooney. Starring George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski.

Leatherheads pulled in enough cash to make the #2 spot at the box-office this weekend, but don’t expect this nominal “football comedy” to hang around long. The movie is a major disappointment from director George Clooney, who had promised great things after Goodnight, and Good Luck. The trailers and promotion for Leatherheads promised a comic and nostalgic romp about the origins of professional football, starting in the days when the pro-leagues were really the bush-leagues, and the mere mention of playing professional to a college player brought on bursts of laughter. Oh, how the times have changed, and wouldn’t it be interesting to see that change happen?

Yes it would, but Leatherheads doesn’t offer that past the first act. In fact, it hardly offers any football between the first and last twenty minutes. In between, Clooney appears to strive for a Howard Hawks-style romantic comedy about a go-getting sassy newspaper gale (RenĂ©e Zellweger) trying to dig up the dirt on a World War I hero with a suspicious record (John Krasinski). The war hero happens to be the star player who is driving Dodge Connelly’s (Geroge Clooney) risky new professional football team to victory, but the sports angle vanishes under one too many hotel and restaurant scenes.

Occasionally, Clooney does accurately tap the Howard Hawks and George S. Kaufman spirit of zingy screwball dialogue. Far too often, however, the movie collapses in a sludge of nostalgia that throws the pacing entirely off. Snappy openings and closings and a few smatterings of slapstick (the scene of Krasinski’s sleeve catching on fire is the movie’s funniest moment) can’t survive the periods of drudgery that should have gotten mercilessly tossed to the cutting room floor—or dragged to “garbage” icon on the Avid. Randy Newman’s jazz score provides help, but all his buoyancy can’t force the rest of the picture to keep up. The film’s major slapstick sequence, unfortunately, goes all wrong in its homage to the Keystone Kops and appears to be phoning in from a surrealist farce.

The football scenes are amusing, and they should have taken most of the focus. The final game, however, isn’t at all what you might hope for from a sports movie. Mired in the mud with almost no action, even the fictional commentators can’t get much excitement out of it. It sets up a decent gag about the last moment of old-fashioned football tactics (i.e. “cheating”), but as a finale for a film that’s already over two hours long, I call it a fumble in the end zone. And M*A*S*H did a similar gag much better back in 1970.

The 1920s, however, is still was one of the best-looking eras ever. People just knew how to dress stylishly back then. I want those vests, jackets, and ties…now!