The problem with Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day is that it focuses on one of the least cinematic aspects of football and tries to make a whole movie out of it. Instead of making a football comedy that focuses on game day action, the herculean efforts of a team and the will play on no matter what, we get a movie about the business of player trading. Scenes of actors shouting into phones, begging for players and demanding for monetary and statistical considerations is interesting to read about or hear discussed on SportsCenter. As a movie, it doesn’t make the cut.
Kevin Costner stars as the manager of the Cleveland Browns and he’s having a rotten day. He’s still grieving from the death of his father, the former, legendary team manager. His relationship with a colleague (Jennifer Garner) is on rough waters and his mother (Ellen Burstyn) makes an unscheduled visit to his office. Worst of all, it’s draft day and he’s on the fence over which team members to keep, pick and drop while the media watches.
This aims to do for the NFL what Moneyball did for the major leagues. Namely, we’re behind the scenes, watching powerful but exhausted team owners and their staff debate, strategize and lose their minds over the best possible team to assemble. We meet a few players, but they’re mostly in the background. The emphasis is on the men (and lone woman) in suits, hollering into phones and one another.
When it was Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in Moneyball, these comparatively quiet scenes had snap, rich humor and suspense. Here, it’s well played but not as exciting as it ought to be. The climactic scenes are interesting and there are crowd pleasing moments but they still don’t make for a cinematic event.
The fast-talking practice of player swapping will make this an okay bet for Fantasy Football League players. For everyone else, it’s a passable time killer, the kind of inoffensive movie you watch on a long plane trip. This could have worked if we were on the edge of our seats and felt the enormous pressure, monetary risk and reputations at stake. Even with an on-screen clock read-out popping up and reminding us repeatedly of the deadline, there’s no suspense or a feeling of urgency.
I’m a big fan of Reitman and was rooting for him as much for his latest film. Being the director of Ghostbusters, Stripes, Kindergarten Cop, Meatballs and the underappreciated Legal Eagles, the guy is a Comedy Hall of Famer. He does his best to keep things moving but the fast-paced sizzle of Ron Howard’s terrific The Paper was solely needed here. The constant use of split-screen is initially novel but becomes overdone and distracting.
Costner appears to be acting at half-speed and his romance with Garner (good in a flimsy role) feels shoehorned in to get women into theaters. A problem with the romantic subplot is that it takes some of the sting out of his predicament: he may lose his job but hey, at least he still has Jennifer Garner.
Denis Leary is the one actor here whose energy hints at the kind of movie this could have been. Rosanna Arquette has one brief scene, as does Jim Brown and what kind of world do we live where Sam Elliot (with one scene) gets less screen time than P. Diddy?
Score: ** (1-5 Star Score)