' ' Cinema Romantico: Leatherheads

Friday, March 20, 2009


The esteemed George Clooney's third directorial feature (in which he also stars) from 2008 puports to be a tale of the early ramshackle days of a fledgling sport known as professional football at a time when the collegiate form of the game ruled and Heisman Trophy winners were more likely to take a job on Wall Street at the end of their four years than to head off to a combine and have scouts pour over their 40 yard dash times. I say purports because, in truth, this film wants to be a distinct homage to the screwball comedies of the same era when people like Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell used more words in three minutes of screen time in "His Girl Friday" than the last three Gus Van Sant "arthouse" films have used combined.

I can like homages if done correctly (I still think The Coen Brothers' "Hudsucker Proxy" is a vastly underrated homage) but, oh, where to begin the woe is me prose in relation to "Leatherheads"? The screenplay was co-authored by one Rick Reilly (with Duncan Brantley) who is a great sportswriter - one of the finest of all time (feel free to indulge in a sample of his better work) - but Mr. Reilly fails to pass muster as a screenwriter. It's not just the dialogue, which sounds like the first draft of someone not writing screwball comedy-stylized dialogue but someone trying really, really hard to write screwball comedy-stylized dialogue, but the exposition. "Leatherheads" is a torrential downpour of exposition. I would need four hands to count the number of times a scene began with what I like to call a Set The Table Scenario. This is meant to indicate that as a scene started one character would say aloud everything the characters in the scene would have already said to one another solely for the audience's benefit. Sorry, Rick, but you can't do that. If you'd read some of these scenes aloud at one of noted screenwriting guru Robert McKee's "Story" sessions he would have come down off the stage and punched you in the face.

But that isn't the worst part of "Leatherheads". Does anyone remember when Renee Zellweger won an Oscar for "Cold Mountain"? Better yet, does anyone remember when she should have won an Oscar for "Jerry Maguire"? God, that performance! What utter brilliance! She could spend the rest of her days hosting a reality television show and it still wouldn't sully Dorothy Boyd for me! Yet, where in the world did the train go off the rails? You know how sometimes people will say an actress or actor was born in the wrong era? Well, Ms. Zellweger was born in the right era, I assure you. She wouldn't have lasted half a day in the 30's and 40's. What in the name of Myrna Loy is she doing in this movie??? Why is she inflicting us with all these pauses and halts in her speech patterns? Why is she trying to sound like real life? Why is she trying to "convince" us? Why didn't George Clooney make her watch "To Have and Have Not" over and over and over again? It's like George Clooney is acting under a big top and Renee Zellweger is acting in regional dinner theater. This is a performance that took me out of the movie because it has no business being in this movie!

John Krasinski is decent as the star college player Clooney's grizzled pro football veteran is trying to enlist in his cause but Krasinksi is just the straight man while Zellweger comes off as the straight woman standing alongside the wall at the dance hall when she should be out on the floor doing the cha cha with Clooney.

George Clooney knows what era he's supposed to be in and he's a basketball fan and it's March Madness so bear with me but watching him in this movie is like watching Craig Brackins play this past year for pitiful Iowa State. He's putting up 40 points and 20 rebounds a game but still losing because everyone around him is bricking layups and throwing passes out of bounds.

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