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Review (6/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

In 1925, the game of professional football was in its infancy in the United States. As difficult as it is to believe now, the early professional football league struggled for sponsorship and spectators. In those days, of course, baseball was America’s pastime and the king of the field was none other than the Mighty Babe himself. The action on the gridiron paled in comparison to the Sultan of Swat.

What a difference almost a century makes. Baseball, now disgraced by salary disputes and steroid scandals, is not the draw that it once was. Football has replaced it as America’s sport of choice. In 2008, 97.5 million people tuned in to watch the Superbowl, and advertisers paid an unprecedented $2.7 million for 30-seconds of airtime during the game. As a notable marketing slogan once said, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Leatherheads” tells the story of Dodge Connolly (George Clooney), a free-spirited, hard-living player in the fledgling American professional football league. When his team loses its sponsor, Dodge reinvents the game with the assistance of C.C. Frazier (Jonathan Pryce), a greedy public relations man, and Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), a too-good-to-be-true college football star and war hero. Just as the game begins to peak the interest of the American public, Dodge and Carter find themselves at odds and the fragile credibility of the league teetering in the balance when they cross paths with Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), a beautiful, ambitious reporter from the Chicago Tribune.

Based upon a screenplay by sports writer Rick Reilly and his friend, Duncan Brantley, “Leatherheads” gathered dust for over ten years before Steven Soderberg (“Traffic”, “Ocean’s Eleven”) brought it to the attention of his production partner, George Clooney. Although Clooney enjoyed the core story, he felt that the screenplay was lacking. He reworked it into a comedy, donned his director’s cap and added the project to the roster of Smoke House Pictures, his new production company.

I really wanted to enjoy “Leatherheads”. After all, how could I resist spending two hours in a darkened theater watching George Clooney prancing around in a pair of football pants? Unfortunately, not even Gorgeous George could alter the fact that “Leatherheads” is little more than a mediocre sports film.

At the end of the day, it is the lackluster screenplay that keeps “Leatherheads” from reaching the end zone. To his credit, Clooney’s directing is impeccable. The film’s casting is perfect (right down to Renee Zellweger with her offbeat overbite). But neither was sufficient to salvage Clooney’s merely mildly amusing screenplay. It simply fails to tackle the attention of its audience or to advance any genuine laughs.

Over the years, there have been “sports films” that have earned their place in the annals of film history. “Raging Bull” and “The Natural” come to mind. Decent comedic sports films are a little more difficult to name, but who could deny the appeal of Paul Newman in “Slap Shot”? Unfortunately, “Leatherheads” is not destined to join the list of “good” sports films. It is little more than a nerf football trying to pretend that it is genuine pigskin.


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