Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Draft Day

 Draft Day
Grade: D
Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Ellen Burstyn
Director: Ivan Reitman
Free Access Granted

With two first-round picks in the 2012 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns were considered favorites to trade up to the No. 2 overall pick and land the rights to Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. They were outbid by the Washington Redskins, whom Griffin would lead to the playoffs. The Browns kept their picks and chose running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden. Two short years later, neither player is still a Cleveland Brown.

So when the Seattle Seahawks go looking for a sucker to trade the No. 1 pick in Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day, it won’t surprise beleaguered Browns fans (of which there are no other kind) where the bull’s eye lands – squarely on the back of Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner). To the Cleveland faithful, even the looniest of the loony things that follow might seem plausible. It’s one thing for a GM to pay a ransom of future draft picks to move up from No. 7 to the top pick. But then to use that top pick on the same player he would have chosen at No. 7? Oooookay. To pass on a golden-arm quarterback prospect because of something that might have happened at a birthday party? Madness! Football nuts will see Draft Day as a cartoon. Browns fans might suspect it’s a docudrama.

That’s just the football side of the equation for Costner’s character. His father just died. He just knocked up a team executive (Jennifer Garner). And his mother wants to spread his father’s ashes on a practice field RIGHT THIS MINUTE! To make matters worse, the planet must be on an asteroid collision course for Draft Night, because none of these people can put off any of these distractions until the next day.

Draft Day takes inspiration from the baseball front office drama of Brad Pitt and Moneyball. While that film has its flaws, it knows baseball and presents Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane as a sharp innovator. By contrast, Draft Day makes you think Weaver and the Browns’ scouts spent all offseason throwing paper airplanes at each other. With the draft hours away, they appear to be looking at these players for the first time. Weaver has never spoken to the quarterback on whom he’s risking his job.  Departures from reality are acceptable, but why depart when the reality would be intense? Research counts.  It doesn’t come across here.

Everyone would like to see Kevin Costner go on a late career run. His breezy essence and core of decency dominates the film like a good star should, but Draft Day isn’t much of a prize for the effort. Director Ivan Reitman’s main flourish is to split-screen telephone calls between the general managers, as if Rock Hudson and Doris Day were discussing players-to-be-named-later (although I like the way he personalizes the offices – a problem with Moneyball). Somewhere along the line, Rajiv Joseph (a Pullitzer Prize nominee) and Scott Rothman’s script might have been a good at one time. But you can see the lumps where producers, market analysts, script doctors, and Hollywood convention stuck their knives.

Despite the fact it would inevitably turn into a commercial for a billion-dollar sports enterprise, a film about the NFL draft should have plenty of good material – money, family, hopes, dreams, sins, deception, obsession, isolation, and a ticking clock. That film is still on the clock.

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