Draft Day | Ivan Reitman | April 11, 2014
Sports movies, whether they’re inspirational, a biopic, or both, tend to play by the rules, and Draft Day is no different. This time around, you’re not rooting for the players, but the decision-makers behind the scenes. And I could frankly care less because of all the obvious product placement and lack of interest in the sport.
Draft Day sets up the Cleveland Browns as the underdogs in the twelve hours leading up to the NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall. General Manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) is looking to finally pick the team he wants, as a key player suffered an injury at the start of last season, and his recently deceased former coach father picked the team the season before that. Needless to say, he wants things to go his way and is willing to make a deal with the devil (giving up future first-round draft picks to the Seahawks in exchange for Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), the golden boy in the draft) – and this isn’t counting the monkey-wrench news that Ali (Jennifer Garner), his girlfriend-on-the-down-low and the Browns’ finance manager, is pregnant. Two other promising players (Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) and Ray Jennings (Houston Texans running back Arian Foster)) try to bend Sonny’s ears, too, so it’s going to be a long day for Sonny.
Right off the bat, Draft Day reeks of product placement, thanks in part to the NFL logo and the various team logos (the Browns, the Seahawks, the Bills, the Chiefs, and the Jaguars). It’s NFL: The Movie, underwritten by the NFL! Hell, the product placement in the film is, to quote my 5th grade social studies teacher, as subtle as a Mack truck. ESPN talking heads are on the various TVs, desktops loaded up with Windows 8 are visible in office backgrounds, characters use Samsung smartphones, and the car brand of choice is GMC. Even Twitter gets a mention, but I’m willing to let that slide.
Cosmetic details aside, Draft Day tries to feel fresh and hip, but falls flat. The cast is littered with noteworthy (and in some cases unusual) faces, such as Sean Combs as a top agent, Frank Langella as the Browns owner, Denis Leary as the Browns coach, and Terry Crews as Earl Jennings, a former Browns player. Even the rarely-seen Tom Welling and Sam Elliott appear as the Browns quarterback and a University of Wisconsin football coach, respectively. The issue with the cast, even though there humorous moments on their behalf, is that there are no stand-out performances. Everyone plays their part – like acting by the numbers – although Langella and Ellen Burstyn have a scene-stealing moment or two. Otherwise, the various locations (and football stadiums/training facilities) are so painfully obvious that they don’t require flying titles, the debut script from Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph seems to be trying for a Moneyball vibe but doesn’t necessarily pique the interest of non-football fans, and nothing stands out in regards to Reitman’s directing style.
I, meanwhile, am not incredibly into football (college or professional), and I couldn’t see myself caring about the characters or their situations. Yes, there are big things happening in the world of professional football in Draft Day, but it’s small beans compared to what matters in the world outside of football. Football isn’t the end-all-be-all – it’s just something that millions of Americans (for the most part) love. Draft Day is definitely more for fans of the sport, but for a film with some promise (namely the cast), it doesn’t strive to be more than an ESPN or USA made-for-TV movie.