Cleveland sports fans can take heart: Even if your hopes for athletic success are dashed year after year on the field, the silver screen desperately wants you to win.
Back in the late 1980s, “Major League” brought the pennant to Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians. And now, after “The Decision” and two Super Bowl titles for the Baltimore Ravens (i.e, the ex-Cleveland Browns) have stacked another 25 years of Lake Erie futility on Cleveland’s resume, “Draft Day” and Kevin Costner have arrived to restore hope once again.
“Draft Day” is a fictional account of a day in the life of an NFL general manager. It almost wants to be the old-fashioned football answer to 2011’s “Moneyball,” a true story about the GM who pioneered the use of sabermetrics in Major League Baseball.
Set on the day of the annual NFL draft — easily the most important day of any GM’s year — “Draft Day” follows the fictional exploits of Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner), the beleaguered GM of the Cleveland Browns. The Browns are gearing up for another relatively high pick and another season of tempered optimism. Then only hours before the draft is scheduled to begin, opportunity comes via the Seattle Seahawks, who are offering the No. 1 pick overall, and the chance to draft blue-chip prospect Bo Callahan.
Under pressure from owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella, perpetually in sunglasses), Sonny makes the trade, and quickly realizes he’s made a complicated situation worse instead of better. He’s got a new coach (Denis Leary) who is angry for being kept out of the loop. He’s got a resident QB who feels like Sonny just put a knife in his back. He’s got a secret girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) who also happens to be the team’s salary cap specialist — and only this morning found out she’s pregnant. And strangely, he’s got a mother determined to honor his recently departed father in the middle of all the chaos (incidentally, Dad used to be the coach until Sonny fired him).
It’s quite a mess, and the chaos that ensues involves a lot of draft jockeying that will probably bore non-sports fans to tears, so best of luck to anyone who sees “Draft Day” as a way of appeasing a loved one. But if you can keep with it and suspend enough of your disbelief to ignore its silly contrivances, “Draft Day” is actually a pretty fun film. It won’t be making anyone’s all-time favorite sports movie lists, but in the long stretch between the Super Bowl and training camp, it should provide something of a football fix. And maybe a consolation prize if your team’s real draft doesn’t go so well this month.
Costner has been enjoying something of a resurgence lately, and it’s almost easier to buy him as the beleaguered Browns GM than it was to buy Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane, even if “Moneyball” is still the better film. Now that the hero of "Field of Dreams" and "Bull Durham" has baseball and football under his belt, maybe Costner can start thinking about basketball (a Jerry Sloan biopic, perhaps?).
Outside of Costner, no one else does much to draw any attention to themselves, though that may be the fault of the script as much as anything else. “Draft Day” is about Sonny, and anything beyond that is just meant to color in the gaps. And anyone looking for a lot of hard-hitting football highlights will be better off spending their time with NFL films and John Facenda.
“Draft Day” is rated PG-13 for some sexual content, mild violence and steady profanity, including a very punctuated use of the F-word.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.