reviewed by Enrico Banson
Itís not that Leatherheads is a bad movie. Itís handsomely mounted, skillfully executed with panache even if it lacks the necessary spark. There is an undeniable confidence to the direction (What do you expect? Itís Clooney). Perhaps the reason Leatherheads isnít quite the touchdown it should be is because Iíve come to expect more wattage from Clooney as a filmmaker, who has proven in the past that heís a skilled craftsman behind the camera. His first two films, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night and Good Luck, have the same confidence but they were sharp and focused. Those two movies werenít afraid to push buttons and go for broke, be it through his aesthetic choices or the message heís trying to get across. Sure, Leatherheads is lighthearted, but thatís no excuse to be timid. Screwball comedies are sharp, striving on pep, vim and verve and this movie sets itself as the ultimate homage to those classics. It only scratches the surface. The zingers are few and far between in Leatherheads, and thatís its biggest fumble.
Itís 1925 and George Clooney plays Dodge Connolly, an aging running back for the down-and-out Duluth Bulldogs. Unlike everybody else around him, Dodge believes pro football has a future even if the Bulldogs donít. He tries to immortalize his own team by dictating exaggerated stories to his newspaper friends over at the Duluth Democrat. When the team goes broke, Dodge concocts a plan to recruit Princeton football superstar and top-dog war hero Carter ĎThe Bulletí Rutherford (John Krasinski). Having Rutherford as their draw, the Bulldogs go at it again, selling every seat and boosting pro footballís fleeting popularity. Gal reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) is hired by the Chicago Tribune to unravel the truth behind Rutherfordís too-good-to-be-true war hero background, even if it means inventing the story rather than investigate. Of course, she in turn becomes smitten with Rutherford and ferociously banters with Dodge about her sudden overzealous nature to debunk his boy wonder. Then again, Lexie finds Dodgeís charm all too appealing as well. If youíre familiar with His Girl Friday or Hail the Conquering Hero, you know where this is heading.
There are good things going for it. For one, the cast has the throwback homage down pat, complete with zippy delivery and double-takes. John Krasinksi (TVís The Office, License to Wed) proves he can hold his own along side the bigger names with his wonderful performance. Renee Zellweger and Clooney handle the dialogue well, even when it occasionally falls with a resounding thud. Most importantly, there is palpable chemistry from the two A-listers, enough to almost carry the film. Almost. Thereís also Randy Newmanís period score which seems apropos to his trademark ragtime style.
The screenplay falls short of beingówhat should beóa great one. Sports writers Duncan Brantley and Rick Reillyís script fall flat too often with many misplaced one-liners. Still, the cast is game and the craft on screen is undeniable.
Whatís suprising about Leatherheads is how timely the movie actually feels considering the fact that itís a period piece. The movie deals with sports entities becoming private industries and how rules and money ultimately zaps the fun out of pro sports. There is also a noticeable thread among all three of Clooneyís movies about journalistic integrity. Sadly, it feels heavy-handed here and it bogs the film down. But you canít blame the man for trying. Clooneyís always been one to relish in off-beat career moves that refresh a newfound nostalgia (revamping the Oceanís franchise, being the modern-day Cary Grant or Clark Gable).
The movie works better as a witty romcom than it does a sports movie. It never truly soars as both. The saving graces in Leatherheads are the gorgeous cinematic moments sprinkled all over, from a blink-or-you-miss visual joke to an ensemble characterís expressive face. Itís also how the cinematography harkens back to classic Hollywood. It's the small touches like rainfall on a windowpane or how brown mud sticks on to a cobalt blue football jersey that just gives the film a tangible reality. Even though the story slowly chugs along sometimes, thereís always something interesting going on in Leatherheads that, at the very least, makes you remember why we love being spectators. Be it at a movie or a football game, thereís always something going on to entertain us.
Flixster Profile for Leatherheads