Movie Review: “Draft Day” (Ivan Reitman, USA 2014)

Ivan Reitman is still around 30 years after directing Ghostbusters (USA 1984). In that time, he has directed such other classics as . . . okay, so he’s directed nothing else that anyone should see.

When I first saw a trailer for Draft Day, I really did laugh out loud. I could not believe that someone was actually making this movie that seemed to be a movie about an NFL general manager on draft day and nothing else. Kevin Costner was making the media rounds talking about how his other sports movies were all actually love stories (Which is true of just about all sports movies.), but that didn’t make me feel like it was any more likely to be any good. I thought it might be the sort of laughably stupid, bad film that Trouble with the Curve (Robert Lorenz, USA 2012) was. That sort of horribleness is almost fun, because one can start laughing about all of the obvious beats coming and pure idiocy while cataloging the baseball mistakes. Having Kevin Costner around made it seem less likely to be fun, because his awfulness is so boring and wooden (even compared to Clint Eastwood, and that’s saying something), but I still planned to go watch it to laugh at it.

Then, a weird thing happened: the reviews that came back were, while not great, decent. Costner was getting his usual (and never deserved) praise and critics were discussing the film as a fascinating window into the world of the NFL. No one was even remarking on the borderline-absurd 17-year age difference between Costner and his love interest, which would seem ripe for jokes!

So, now I was going into the film expecting it to be a treacly little family-friendly affair like the mediocre-at-best Moneyball (Bennett Miller, USA 2011) that would similarly get praise for its star for doing nothing at all. It turns out that I was closer to right the first time in expecting the film to be an outright disaster.

The film is the story of a day in the life of Sonny Weaver, Jr., the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, as he makes a series of bizarre moves on the day of the NFL draft to build the team he wants to build while getting the coach and owner off his back. The owner wants Weaver to “make a splash.” The coach wants a running back. He pulls off a series of moves that manage to placate both while reshaping the team as he wants it. Meanwhile, he of course puts his shattered love life in order and makes his mother happy. I’m sure he did something kind to a puppy that we didn’t see, too.

This film defines the word pointless. It’s a film about a guy who supposedly just needs to trust himself but then undermines that point entirely by using a folded piece of yellow paper as a plot point that turns out to say who he wants to and does eventually draft. Clearly he already did trust himself or he wouldn’t have written the note. So, instead it’s really just a story about how Sonny Weaver Jr. is the smartest GM in football . . . proving that a fictional character is the smartest person in a fictional world is not a point strong enough to carry a movie. And that’s where it starts to fall apart.

Then, the story that the film tells is absolutely silly–it’s just a series of football trades to end up trading three second-round picks for the first overall draft pick and taking a guy who apparently might not even go in the first round otherwise. Meanwhile, he’s trying to put together the shattered remnants of a relationship with the team capologist, who is apparently pregnant with his child. Of course, there is never any explanation of how or why their relationship is broken and apparently all he has to do to fix it is want it to be fixed, because he’s Costner the Almighty.

And the film can’t even stay on point with the stories it is telling, because it’s so excited to show us the amazing cameos by Jim Brown, Ray Lewis, Chris Berman, Mel Kiper Jr., and others, many of which are shoehorned into the film with no concern about how they fit the overall story. (“When did you get drafted, Ray?” . . . I nearly left the theater at that.)

As if to add insult to injury, the acting in the film is a mess. Kevin Costner is one of the worst actors in the world, and he doesn’t redeem himself here even though the part is quite simple. The moments in the film that count on him, like his statement to the Seahawks about how he wants their punt returner just because he feels like it, fall flat because of his woodenness. Mercifully, the film mostly has Weaver keep his feelings to himself, which keeps Costner’s weaknesses from being on display too often. Meanwhile, Chadwick Boseman plays a talkative, arrogant linebacker whose character is such an extreme example of every stereotype of african-american athletes that it’s at best borderline offensive, and he plays those stereotypes to the hilt, overacting to the point of being painful. Jennifer Garner and Griffin Newman share comic relief duty, and neither gets the opportunity to to do much else. Denis Leary is also way over-the-top as a neanderthal coach who is apparently based on Barry Switzer, but that’s reasonably appropriate for the role.

Visually, the film was a much bigger effects-fest than it should have been. There was no reason to make such constant use of split-screens and CGI for this film, but that doesn’t stop Reitman and cinematographer Eric Steelberg–they turn the entire film into a bad television segment, and it is not a welcome development.

Draft Day is an abomination. I know I’ve said that a few times lately, but this might really be the film that takes the cake.

Football Minutiae

  • Denver won’t take Bo because they have an “all-pro” QB even though they’re picking fifth in the draft. There are apparently four teams in the top five who don’t need QBs at all. I guess that’s not impossible, but it sure is weird.
  • The $100 bill story is presumably based on an old story (whether true or not) about Randall Cunningham. Supposedly, one of his coaches stuck a $100 bill halfway through Cunningham’s Eagles playbook when he checked it out. When it came back, the $100 bill was still in it.
  • The Seahawks drew boos from the crowd in the theater. That’s what happens in Colorado.
  • A running back is never worth the seventh overall pick. Perhaps in 1960, but not in modern times.
  • One of the many Cleveland Browns to appear as himself is T.J. Ward, who now plays for the Denver Broncos. Another, Alex Mack, came very close to leaving town for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Funny.
  • Obviously, the entire selection process shown is ridiculous. They didn’t notice that Vontae got kicked out of that game before? They didn’t bother to research the top QB in the draft because he wouldn’t be there for their pick? There was no consideration of cap ramifications until after trades? I’m not really upset at those, because they’re adjustments made to reality for dramatic reasons.
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2 thoughts on “Movie Review: “Draft Day” (Ivan Reitman, USA 2014)

  1. It says all you need to know that my girlfriend wanted to see this and I did not. I’m glad I stood my ground.

    I can’t possibly imagine a movie about a fictional NFL draft being interesting. Why people would think this serves as a good basis for a story is beyond me. And I know the football stuff would just bother me and take me out of the movie.

    I did not know Leary was supposed to be a Switzer type. Also, why Switzer? That somehow seems appropriate to think that this movie would be stuck in the mid-’90s.

    Re: Costner, a lot of people seem to hate him, but I think he plays well to the older crowd. In any event, did you watch the Hatfields and McCoys? I thought Costner was great in that, although he was probably aided by Bill Paxton demonstrating the acting skills of a pro athlete.

    • Leary’s character was apparently a Super Bowl-winning coach from the Cowboys who took over a championship-caliber team, got one ring, and then saw it disintegrate under his watch. Costner’s character didn’t want to hire him because he was not impressed with that run but the owner hired him anyway apparently because of the cachet of TEH RING. It seems that they just wanted there to be some reason why he had the job over Weaver’s objections and the one they decided on was a Switzer type of story, which makes some sense if you want a coach to be hired by the owner over the GM’s objections. The fact that he spends the entire film saying, “I need a running back!” and “I hate rookie quarterbacks!” also suggests that he is a neanderthal stuck in 1972, but they apparently don’t want us to think of that as the reason for the tension.

      I did not see “Hatfields & McCoys.” I think Costner is just a horrible, wooden actor. (It’s not a very important detail, but he’s also horrendous at accents and yet continues to attempt them.) He’s a good-looking guy and he’s aged well, but his face moves less than post-surgery Silvester Stallone.

      Once during a film class in undergrad, a professor paused a DVD on Ryan O’Neill’s face and said, “You can’t tell, but it’s actually playing right now–that’s how wooden he is!” I immediately thought, “Kevin Costner-like!”

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