Although I’m not a big George Clooney fan, I’m a sucker for sports movies and will watch just about anything that centers around football, baseball, or hockey. That includes Leatherheads, Clooney’s latest romantic comedy-slash-drama about the early days of professional football in America.
The film proved to be a rare box office misstep for Clooney, earning just $31.2 million domestically against a budget of $58 million. So as I sat down with the DVD recently, I was mentally prepared for a bad movie — and was therefore a bit surprised to discover that Leatherheads, while not exactly good, was at least average.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Dodge Connelly (played by Clooney) is the captain and part owner of the Duluth Bulldogs, a 1920s-era professional football team. Professional football back then could barely be considered a sport, as rules were practically nonexistent, offense was minimal, and games drew meager crowds. As a result, the fledgling league was in danger of folding because of the lack of interest and paying fans — all of this despite the game’s puzzling popularity in the college ranks.
But guys like Dodge had become accustomed to playing football for a living and didn’t want to go back to the factories and mines where they worked before getting a shot with the Bulldogs. So Dodge comes up with an idea to keep the Bulldogs afloat: he must try to convince Yale football star and war hero Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) to play for Duluth. Having such a big name on the team would certainly draw some of the 30-40,000 fans that routinely filled up Yale stadium to see Carter’s squad take on Harvard.
At first, Carter laughs off the notion of playing pro football. He’s going to coast through law school and then slide into a job that’s already waiting for him at a top firm. But Dodge uses lots of cash to convince Carter to at least give it a try, and the college sensation proves to be every bit as popular in Duluth and Chicago as he was in New Haven.
Meanwhile, a reporter named Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger) arrives on the scene, ostensibly to do a puff piece on what a swell guy Carter Rutherford is. In reality, however, her assignment is to discredit Carter’s claims of singlehandedly defeating a group of German soldiers in combat. While researching the story, Lexie falls for Dodge, while Carter falls for her, thus giving the film fodder for the romantic comedy angle.
My Reaction: After seeing this film, I would describe it as a romantic comedy masquerading as a sports film. The previews, posters, and one-sheets all emphasized the pro football aspect of the plot, but there was actually surprisingly little in the way of gridiron action in the movie. And then the few football scenes that did appear were poorly filmed and were too slapstick-y for my tastes.
Clooney and Zellweger were decent in their roles. I bought them as a couple, and believed in each character’s motivations for their actions throughout the film. John Krasinski, on the other hand, was pretty bad. The actor is fine on The Office, where he’s mostly called upon to look directly at the camera and give raised-eyebrow reaction shots to the crazy things that Michael and/or Dwight do, but doesn’t seem to have enough range for the big screen yet. His character was bland and boring, which completely ruined the love triangle story since there was no way Lexie would choose to be with Carter.
There’s not much to say about the rest of the movie. It pretty much unfolded the way I expected it to, with zero surprises or suspenseful moments along the way. Although this wasn’t a laugh-out-loud affair, I did smile a few times and actually enjoyed the film more often than not.
Overall, Leatherheads suffers from an identity crisis. By trying to be both a romantic comedy and a sports movie, the film comes off as a diluted disappointment to those genres. However, it is still watchable, and for that reason I give it 3 stars out of 5.