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Invincible (2006)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Cheesy and Manipulative But Somehow Still Effective"
4 stars

Like almost every film critic in the world–with the possible exception of Shawn Edwards–I have been accused from time to time of only liking films that go out of their way to be strange and bizarre and unusual while coming down harshly on those that only want to tell a simple story about ordinary people for audiences who don’t necessarily want to be challenged or shocked when they plunk down their $9.50. To a degree, I suppose that is somewhat true–when you see as many films as I do, you eventually find yourself gravitating towards the stuff that you haven’t seen a dozen times before–but I am not immune to the pleasures of a simple crowd-pleaser as long as it has been done with a certain amount of skill and efficiency. For example, there isn’t a moment in “Invincible,” the latest inspirational sports melodrama to emerge from Disney (after such previous entries as “Remember the Titans,” “The Rookie,” “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” “Goal,” “Glory Road” and “Miracle”), that hasn’t been seen many times before by even the most occasional of moviegoers–this is the kind of film where even the cliches have cliches hidden within–but it has been done with enough of that elusive skill and efficiency so that I never really minded the fact that I had seen it all before.

“Based on a true story,” the film stars Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale, a down-on-his-luck guy–before the first reel is out, he loses his job as a substitute teacher and his faithless wife–living in the kind of run-down South Philly neighborhood that has you half-expecting to see Rocky Balboa hanging out on a streetcorner. (Amusingly, the film is set in 1976, the same year that “Rocky” was released.) The only joy in Vince’s life is his general love of football and his specific love of the Philadelphia Eagles and even this is a bitter pill to swallow since the team at the time was simply pathetic. In an effort to boost sagging interest and light a fire under his lazy players, new head coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) announces that open tryouts will be held for the general public to see if they have what it takes to make the team. Despite his advanced age (30) and the fact that his post-high school football career consists only of neighborhood pickup games, Vince’s pals convince him to try out on the theory that even if he doesn’t make it, he can at least say that he tried and that he got to briefly play football on the hallowed grounds of Veterans Stadium. (Of course, the film doesn’t quite find time to mention the time Papale spent in the World Football League in the mid-1970's before his Eagles tryout.)

Vince tries out and to the astonishment of all–most of all himself–he is the only one asked to come back to training camp and formally try out for the team. Although the other players consider him to be a joke who is eating up a precious tryout position and the media sees him as little more than a human-interest freakshow, Vince somehow manages to make it through the entire tryout phase and is invited to officially join the team. His preseason games and pro debut are disasters, however, and Vince becomes despondent that he is about to be dropped. However, thanks to his grim determination, the love of a sexy barmaid (Elizabeth Banks) and a series of well-timed inspirational speeches from family and friends, he takes the field the next week and triumphs in such an improbable way that most viewers will cheerfully ignore the fact that the team was mostly stomped for the rest of the season and while Papale would play for three years, they wouldn’t go to the Super Bowl until the year after he left.

I mention the climax only because there is not a chance that anyone walking into the film under their own power will not be able to figure out that the film will end on some moment of triumph–if it didn’t, it is hardly likely that anyone would have considered filming it in the first place. And yet, despite the familiarity of the proceedings, the film still somehow manages to find a way to transcend its one-note premise. Although he shows some jitters early on–primarily in the way that he lays on the blue-collar “atmosphere” a bit thick at times–first-time director Ericson Core eventually settles down and gets the job done with the same determination as its subject. Sure, this is one of those movies that stops in its tracks once every reel to allow someone to deliver an inspiring monologue but he manages to pull them off in such a way that they almost seem halfway plausible. Other times, he finds a moment of genuine inspiration that livens things up considerably–I love the bit when, just before their respective first games in the big leagues, both Vince and Coach Vermeil find themselves partaking in the same sort of pre-game ritual. It should also be noted that if you can ignore the fact that Wahlberg is simply too small to be completely convincing as an NFL player, the game footage that we see is a little more convincing that the kind of elaborate trickery that we are usually given instead.

It is a good thing that the aspects work to the degree that they do because they go a long way towards making up for the chief flaw of the film–the nearly somnambulistic lead performance from Mark Wahlberg. Though he has proven over the years to be a more than reliable performer (I am more and more convinced that his work in “Boogie Nights” is one of the best acting performances seen in a film in the Nineties), he seems to be working under the assumption that playing an underdog means acting like a logy lump for 100 minutes. To be fair, it isn’t so much a bad performance as it is a weirdly miscalculated one–you would think that a guy who is achieving his dream of playing football for a living would allow himself to show even a glimmer of excitement but that is not the case here. Happily, the other key performances make up for his lack of energy. Although I can’t say that he would be my first choice to play someone like Dick Vermeil, Greg Kinnear does a good job of playing a guy who has to project an air of utter confidence in public even though he is privately filled with as many doubts as to his abilities as Vince. Even better is Elizabeth Banks in what could have just been a throwaway bit as the loyal girlfriend–she brings a lot of spunk and charm to her scenes and it must be noted that she fills out a New York Giants jersey in ways that could inspire even the mopiest of individuals.

“Invincible” is like the cinematic equivalent of a hot dog that you get at the ball park during a big game–it isn’t particularly nourishing and it consists entirely of bits and pieces taken from other sources along with a healthy serving of crap meant to hold it all together (such as the subplot involving Vince’s even-mopier loser of a friend who wants his pal to fail that he won’t be abandoned by him) but it winds up being surprisingly easy to swallow and far tastier than you might expect. In the grand scheme of inspirational sports films, it doesn’t quite reach the ranks of something like the thoroughly underrated “Miracle” (mostly because that had the great central performance from Kurt Russell), but it is entertaining enough in its own right that you don’t need to be an athlete or an athletic supporter to find yourself responding to it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15077&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/25/06 01:47:30
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User Comments

12/29/09 fartvenugen another disney formula turd 2 stars
11/04/08 undertaker nice one i liked it 5 stars
4/10/08 Matt A bit of an opportunity missed to do better, but a likeable enough rags-to-riches movie 4 stars
10/13/07 Private Treads familar ground with effectiveness. 4 stars
6/13/07 AJ Muller Surprisingly good. A bit sappy, but it works; big heart and solid acting - effective. 4 stars
10/16/06 Quigley a very good sports movie; very inspiring with some good performances and script 4 stars
10/15/06 William Goss Painlessly typical tale, w/ good performances and better sdtrk. Too much slo-mo near end. 3 stars
10/10/06 E.G. This movie sucks large black cock 1 stars
9/12/06 Edward Connell Thought provoking set at a slow pace in viewer control 4 stars
9/08/06 michael classic flix 4 stars
8/31/06 Mohobbit not great, but not a waste of time either.a good sports film 4 stars
8/31/06 Pn. Not a false move in this true movie. 5 stars
8/28/06 mwr There's nothing wrong with this movie - it's a great drama. 5 stars
8/25/06 Davdutt Bhati my comments is chemistry 5 stars
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  25-Aug-2006 (PG)
  DVD: 19-Dec-2006



Directed by
  Ericson Core

Written by
  Brad Gann

  Mark Wahlberg
  Greg Kinnear
  Elizabeth Banks
  Michael Rispoli
  Kevin Conway

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