Thursday, April 10, 2014

Draft Day Review

This image perfectly captures the "drama" and Costners character in "Draft Day." 

“Draft Day” is an odd movie; not because it’s thought provoking or unique but because I’m not exactly sure why it was made in the first place. It’s clearly a love letter to the NFL but specifically a love letter to the Cleveland Browns. The story revolves around the 2014 NFL draft and the Browns are trying to transform themselves into a better team.

 So O.K, am I supposed to care about whether the Cleveland Browns turn themselves around? I’ll admit I’m not really an NFL fan but will non Cleveland Browns fans care whether they transform themselves? And anyway, if the movie is done well enough, if the story is engaging and the characters compelling then it shouldn’t make a difference if I’m an NFL fan or not. The trouble is, “Draft Day” isn’t done well, it’s not awful by any means but it’s rather bland and tells a predictable, slightly corny story that’s ultimately about going with your gut.

Kevin Costner stars as Browns’ General Manager Sonny Weaver Jr. The NFL draft is drawing near and he finds himself under a lot of pressure. If he doesn’t make the right decisions then he could be fired. One day he gets a call--I’d say about 80% of the movie is phone calls-- from the GM for the Seattle Seahawks, which have the first pick of the draft at the moment, offering to make a deal: Sonny can have the first pick and the projected number one draft pick Bo Callahan (Josh Pence) in exchange for relinquishing future first draft picks.

It’s a tough decision but Sonny goes for it because it could mean improvement for the team. But does Sonny really think Callahan is the best pick? Or should he go with other aspiring NFL players like Vontane Mack (Chadwick Bosman)? And so goes “Draft Day,” a movie full of, heated exchanges between Sonny and other members of the Browns’ staff like the owner played by Frank Langella, and last minute deals with other teams and second guessing. Oh so much second-guessing! Practically all of Costner’s performance is giving in to peer pressure and flipping back and forth between decisions.

As I said before, “Draft Day” isn’t terrible and it sheds light on an aspect of football that we don’t normally see in football movies. There’s clearly a lot of stress and strategy involved in the NFL draft but the movie doesn’t really give the audience much reason to care about any of it. The screenplay by Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman gets bogged down in a lot of dry facts and stats concerning college players.  “Moneyball” gave us a reason to care about how baseball players were selected and traded by depicting a fascinating and entertaining tension between the old-timer scouts who believed in picking players using their gut and the younger fellows who wanted to use computer programs to select players. “Draft Day” doesn’t have much tension, as it really just comes down to what Sonny thinks is the best move. If you know how a draft works than it’s not very exciting stuff and if you don’t know how a draft works than it’s even less exciting.

And for all of the last minute deals that are made and the various attempts at drama, “Draft Day” offers very few surprises. The story progresses exactly how you’d expect it to and you can see Sonny’s final decision coming from a mile away.

Costner gives a perfectly average performance, again not bad but also not all that captivating. In fact that’s a good way to describe the entire movie.  The picture seems to be lacking in energy, with everyone involved not giving you much reason to care about what’s happening. As directed by veteran comedy director Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”) the film contains a few chuckle worthy moments but overall the attempts at humor feel restrained, probably due to the film’s PG-13 rating. Even when actors like Ellen Burstyn—as Sonny’s feisty mother—and Dennis Leary—as the Browns’ jerk head coach who’s at odds with Sonny for practically the entire film—show up they seem like they’re holding back. Only once near the end when Costner calls the Seahawks GM a “pancake eating motherf---er“ does the movie and Costner’s performance breathe any kind of real life.

Ultimately I’m still not sure whom “Draft Day” is for. Non football fans won’t like it and I have a hard time believing hardcore football fans would want to see a watered down dramatization of the NFL draft, especially if they’re not Cleveland fans, or even Seahawk fans. “Draft Day” isn’t very compelling, exciting or funny, it just sort of sits there, frozen in movie purgatory, lacking in purpose.


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