PLOT: It was a time with college football was all anybody cared about. Professional football was played without rules, sometimes without caring who wins and almost always, without an ticket buyers. So when the entire league gets shut down, they all pack it up and go home. That is until Dodge Connelly gets the idea to convince Carter Rutherford, the best college player and a war hero, to play pro. Once convinced, they find a spunky reporter named Lexie Littleton hot on their trails wanting to do a story on Carter. But her true intentions are not to glorify the star player, but to prove that he lied about being a war hero. And thus, the game of football and a romantic triangle are pushed into play.
There is something so old-fashioned about LEATHERHEADS that it is almost shocking. In fact, aside from a brief moment or two of swearing, this film could have easily been made back when Clark Gable and Cary Grant were leading men. The witty dialogue carries through much of this football movie that is more romantic triangle than football. And if youve been hankering for an old time romantic comedy, this is the movie for you. In one scene, Jimmy Dodge Connelly and Lexie Littleton (even the names sound like the twenties), played by George Clooney and Renee Zellweger, enjoy a little spat on a train. It consists of the two sharing quarters, each one in a sleeping compartment with a red curtain where Lexie is in the bottom bunk and Dodge is in the top, and they are bickering each one opening up the curtain on their turn. Maybe there was a little SOME LIKE IT HOT, or for a more modern comparison, the Bruce Willis/Cybill Shepherd hit Moonlighting inspiring this. It was such a clever and funny scene, that it was sort of sad that almost any time the football sequences came into play, I lost interest.
I loved the sparring between the threesome. Clooney and Zellweger is nicely rounded out by the wonderfully likeable John Krasinski from televisions The Office. He plays Carter Rutherford, a college football sensation who is convinced to join a professional team. And back then, the professionals were lucky if they could get in a dozen people in the bleachers. In fact, the story here reminded me a bit of the recent Will Ferrell comedy SEMI-PRO. Basically, you have Dodge Connelly, an aging football hero, who is told that professional football is dead due to lack of interest. He soon finds out that there is no more funding when all the sponsors back out and the entire league is shut down. After he and all his teammates are sent home, he comes up with a plan to bring in some ticket sales. And that plan is a college player named Rutherford. The young hero is the best of the best, his face is all over in print ads for you name it, and he is a war hero to boot. Dodge makes a plan to revive pro football, by bringing the best to the pros.
Now as far as sports comedies go, I liked the three main actors for the most part. I did sometimes get the feeling that Renee was trying too hard. Maybe she was attempting to channel Claudette Colbert or some of those past leading ladies, but sometimes it didnt really work. Yet, for the most part she did a fine job. In fact, the film works best when she is with the two men, or when Dodge and Carter are bouncing off each other. There was quite a bit of chemistry between the leads and they were able to carry the old-fashioned dialogue and quick wit that was spread throughout the script. In fact, I was much more interested in the film when it was having fun with these characters. I also enjoyed seeing Jonathan Pryce as CC Frazier who willingly decides to let Carter join a professional team. I liked the human elements and when LEATHERHEADS focuses on that, it works quite nicely.
Now the problem I had with the film is that it tried too hard to be too many things. The whole football angle felt so superficial, that by the time the big game arrives, I didnt care at all. Buried under all of the old-fashioned banter and clever dialogue was the team and the game itself. The teammates werent really given a whole lot of time to invest in, except maybe to further along another joke, so I didnt really care about them. Im not sure if the problem lies in the script, because the dialogue was clever and fun, or if it was in the pacing. George Clooney as director did a swell job, but I cant help feeling that everybody was so interested in making this a throwback to classic films, that they forgot that it is also supposed to be a sports picture. Hey, balancing sports and human drama works, look at the fantastic BULL DURHAM. But LEATHERHEADS is so stylish and classic, I couldnt help but feel that the story about the game and the team gets lost in the shuffle. My rating 6/10 -- JimmyO
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