Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Leatherheads Review

Originally posted April 7, 2008. Reprinted with permission.

I aspire to be selective in my movie going experiences. I usually don’t go to see movies that I suspect will be disappointing. I didn’t see the third Pirates or Shrek and I skipped every Adam Sandler movie since Happy Gilmore. What I get in return is the more satisfying feeling of going into a movie with nominal expectations and leaving pleasantly surprised. For example, a few weeks ago I went to see The Bank Job, expecting a decent caper movie. Instead, I left convinced I had seen the best heist movie in years. So, more often than not, I see a better movie than I had hoped for and my faith in film continues to beat strong in my heart. Conversely, the far rarer occurrence is when I am really anticipating a movie and end up being truly let down by it. Unfortunately, Leatherheads is such a movie.

Hollywood hyphenate George Clooney directs, acts and left the Writer’s Guild over his rewriting credit of this homage to 1920’s football and screwball comedies. Starring as a pro football player in the good old days when nobody cared about pro football, he tries to draw in John Krasinski, the Princeton star/World War I hero, in order to boost ticket sales. Sadly, Krasinski is saddled with Renee Zellweger by his side as a reporter looking to cook his goose over his hero story.

That’s basically the story and just about where I stopped paying attention as well. Perhaps I was unfair in comparing this film to movies such as The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, and It Happened One Night and maybe I even got a little spoiled by watching I Was A Male War Bride the morning before. As a huge fan of screwball comedies and such talents as Howard Hawks, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, I was really excited to see Clooney and Krasinski verbally spar over a professional woman who they obviously think is more attractive than I do. (Renee ain’t got shit on Rosalind.) George is great as the lead, shining and mugging more like a Clark Gable than anyone else. Clearly, the Oscar winner knows how to lay back and lets others shine, but he can still command a picture, as he does here. However, he is the movie’s lone strong point. In the constructs of a screwball comedy, the movie falls flat in every area. For a comedy, it does not stay funny consistently. It gets slow and weighty at times, especially with flashbacks to the war and the ongoing battle in the second half between the Tribune and Krasinski’s agent, played by Johnathon Pryce. The dialogue crackles between Clooney and Renee but then they fall in love and it doesn’t anymore. The love triangle between the three also feels forced, mostly because Renee comes across as a cute tart, but with few redeeming qualities. Granted, the conventions of a screwball are quite dated and the fact that opposites attract and the two can fall in love by the end of the picture may seem nostalgic and corny to modern audiences, but when the romantic leads aren’t even forced together in common goals or awkward situations, the potential for sparks to fly is nonexistent. The fact that neither George and Renee or John and Renee are after the same thing as a couple, translates into Clooney and Krasinski having more chemistry than Zellweger and either of the male leads. Furthermore, as the third wheel, the Krasinski character has to either be the straight man or the comedic foil to Clooney’s character and through some flaw in design that I honestly believe to be unintentional, Clooney has the best dialogue, the most scenes and is the most likeable character. Krasinski simply has to little to do, yet his character is the focal point of the story. His agent does most of the talking for him and as a side note, as much as I enjoy Johnathon Pryce, couldn’t Clooney have gotten David Strathairn in that role? He’s always been terrific in his period sports films like A League of Their Own and Eight Men Out.

I actually walked out of the show with about fifteen minutes left, because even though it was time for the big game, I felt like everything had already been resolved between the characters. I loved good night, and good luck and I guess I was expecting another knockout like that. However, this movie had no modern day relevance and while it may have lacked a defined genre, it also suffers from stretching itself thin over two too many. So, perhaps I am biased, since I despise football, Renee Zellweger and comedies without enough comedy, but I am looking forward to a good rest of April in next three weeks, with Street Kings, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Baby Mama and by the first weekend in May, well, it’s all over.

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