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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.03%
Worth A Look69.7%
Just Average: 6.06%
Pretty Crappy: 18.18%
Sucks: 3.03%

4 reviews, 9 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Before They Made Them Run (And Pass)"
4 stars

Like his first two directorial efforts, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and “Good Night, and Good Luck,” George Clooney’s “Leatherheads” is a period film that comments on the media and popular culture that simultaneously evokes a long-gong era while subtly finding parallels between what happened back then and what is going on in the world these days. Unlike those other films, which had some serious and interesting things to say (yes, even “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” had its moments of introspection amidst all the surreal craziness), “Leatherheads” has nothing more on its mind than being a knockabout farce with cheerfully broad performances and screwball plotting. The result is an amiable bit of nonsense that may not be especially important or profound but which nevertheless results in a pretty good time at the movies for those in the mood for something a little less serious.

Set in 1925, “Leatherheads” takes place during the early days of professional football, a time when the game was largely unregulated (resulting in such questionable plays as the immortal “Crusty Bob”), players were nobodies willing to slam themselves around in the muck for a few bucks and the forward pass was still a curiosity that was largely ignored for a run-based offense. (In this last regard, Chicago Bears fans may find the film to be an example of that old maxim about how the more things change, the more they stay the same.) Alas, while college football was packing in tens of thousands of fans into stadiums at this time, professional football was looked upon as little more than a bad joke and the resulting low attendance has forced most of the teams to run out of money and disband. The next team on the chopping block is the scrappy Duluth Bulldogs, a team that has a lot of heart but so little money that when a kid makes off with their only football in the middle of a game they are winning, they are forced to forfeit because they cannot supply another one. However, team leader Dodge Connelly (Clooney), an old-timer who continues to play because he has no other skills worth mentioning, refuses to take this lying down and he hits upon a last-ditch plan to save the Bulldogs. He will convince Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford (John Krasinski), an all-American boy who became a national hero and media sensation when he single-handedly captured an entire German platoon during the war and then returned to Princeton to become a college football sensation, to take a leave of absence from school and play for the Bulldogs, where his enormous popularity will draw enough crowds to their games to save both the team and the entire sport. Of course, Carter’s services don’t come cheap–as slimy agent C.C. Frazier (Jonathan Pryce) makes abundantly clear–but he proves to be worth his weight in gold and he single-handedly reverse the fortunes of the team and the league.

As the Bulldogs bomb around from city to city, they are joined by Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), a bold brassy and sassy newspaper reporter (alas, she is not spunky as that might have jeopardized the film’s PG-13 rating) who is doing an article on Carter and his amazing war heroics. What Carter doesn’t know, however, is that Lexie is working under false pretenses–her editors at the Chicago Daily Tribune have met with a former comrade of Carter’s who claims that said heroics never happened and they want an article with Carter backing up the allegedly inflated claims before lowering the boom on him with an expose. Making things a little more complicated is the fact that Dodge knows exactly what Lexie is up to but promises to keep silent as long as it doesn’t jeopardize his plans to save the team. Making things a little more complicated is the fact that Carter seems to be getting sweet on Lexie to the point where he confesses to her what really happened on the night of his alleged heroics. Making things really complicated than that is the fact that, despite the argumentative bantering they have been indulging in almost from the moment they met, Dodge and Lexie seem to be getting sweet for each other, especially after the two of them are forced to escape a raided speakeasy together. And if those weren’t enough complications, the new-found popularity of professional football and all of the money it is suddenly bringing in has led to the institution of the game’s first commissioner, who first two jobs are to settle the whole matter involving Carter when it finally goes public and to clean up the game of football by instituting actual rules and regulations that seem to have been custom-designed to drive people like Dodge, who helped revive the sport in the first place, from the league forever.

In interviews, Clooney has often admitted to aping the styles of certain films and filmmakers as inspiration for his own directorial efforts and that certainly seems to be the case with “Leatherheads.” This time around, he seems to be paying equal homage to the screwball comedies of the 1930's–films that featured deliberately nutty storylines and actors contributing cheerfully over-the-top performances while delivering their dialogue at a pace that makes the phrase “rapid-fire” seem somehow inadequate–with the broader works of the Coen Brothers that have often paid stylish and stylized tribute to those same screwball gems. (I’m thinking of works like “The Hudsucker Proxy,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Intolerable Cruelty”–the last two of which starred Clooney himself.) For the most part, he pulls it off pretty well–he does a good job of offering a stylized evocation of the period, he keeps things moving along at an agreeably snappy pace and he (along with acclaimed cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel) knows how to shoot a visual gag so that it inspires big laughs without ever feeling like it is obviously straining for them. (There is an early shot of a cow just standing there and observing a football game that has the off-beat grace and charm of an old “Far Side” panel.) And even though the film is a goofball comedy through and through, if you look hard enough, you may notice that it also has some interesting things to say about how the commercialization and profit-minded exploitation of anything has an unfortunate tendency to suck all the fun out of the enterprise and about the media and its need to build up ordinary men into heroes when it serves their needs and to tear them back down when that serves their needs.

In the press, Clooney is often described as a throwback to the glamourous movie stars of the 1930's and while a lot of that is the usual P.R. nonsense used to sell magazines and whatnot, he does share one thing with those bygone legends and it is the ability to give a completely stylized performance–the kind that you used to see all the time in the movies before the advent of Method acting in the 1950's made for a more realistic acting standard–without a single trace of self-consciousness about it. What he does here is the kind of deliberately broad turn that he performed in his excursions with the Coens and while this performance certainly won’t be winning him awards anytime soon, it fits in with the material in ways that simply wouldn’t have worked as well with a more restrained and nuanced take. This works for the supporting players as well–Clooney has clearly cast most of them for their faces and their abilities for working broad and they do a good job of evoking the spirits of the classic supporting players of the 1930's that used to crop up in the films of people like Preston Sturges. As for the other leads, they both have a little more trouble adjusting to the stylized nature of the performances. At times, Krasinski seems as if he is in a little over his head and unsure of what to do or how to act and tries to use his considerable charm to muddle through any situation–however, since these same traits can be found in the character he is playing, it works out relatively well, even though the screenplay can never seem to decided whether we should like him despite his knowing part in his charade or despise him because of it. Zellweger, on the other hand, never quite finds the right note for Lexie–although she did a wonderful job of presenting a modern-day version of the parts that 30's staples like Jean Arthur used to play in “Jerry Maguire,” her attempt to emulate those iconic characters here are so loaded down with the sheer effort of her trying to pull it off that it winds up working against the breezy fun of the rest of the proceedings.

As I said, “Leatherheads” is a profoundly unprofound film that really doesn’t have anything on its mind other than to give audiences a couple of hours of giggly fun. Those who admired Clooney’s previous directorial efforts may find it to be a silly and pointless step backwards while others may be put off by its stylized approach and general refusal to mimic the gleeful raunchiness of such sports-related classics as “Bull Durham,” “Slap Shot” and “The Longest Yard.” Quite frankly, I agree with those assessments and yet, I cannot escape the fact that I had fun watching the film despite (or possibly because of) its complete lack of pretension. You often hear about people complaining about how too many movies these days are too serious and complicated and how what they really want to see is something cheerfully silly and harmless that lets them leave the theater feeling better than when they went in. “Leatherheads” is the kind of film made for those people and, unlike such recent would-be frothy comedies as “27 Dresses” or “Semi-Pro,” you won’t leave the theater feeling stupider for having watched it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17018&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/04/08 00:00:00
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User Comments

9/13/09 RLan This film fails on so many levels! AVOID IT!!! 1 stars
9/12/09 Jeff Wilder A likeable old-fashioned screwball comedy. 4 stars
9/03/09 CTT Cute, often funny, and completely unmemorable 4 stars
1/07/09 Shaun Wallner Great Cast!! 4 stars
6/02/08 bradkay Cute movie. Good chemisry between Cloony & Zellweger. Takes long time to develop. 3 stars
6/01/08 George Barksdale Another funny movie by George Clooney 4 stars
5/31/08 Jacqueline Carpenter What can I say George Clooney 5 stars
4/17/08 magda khiralla a funney film i like it 4 stars
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  04-Apr-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 23-Sep-2008


  DVD: 23-Sep-2008

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