Draft Day's plot loses its game

Review Sports drama


110 minutes/Opens tomorrow/**1/2

The story: It is draft day, when teams of the National Football League (NFL) take turns to recruit unsigned players. Every team is eyeing the arrogant but talented player Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner), general manager of the Cleveland Browns, has drawn the No. 1 pick and everyone expects him to grab Callahan. But as the clock counts down to the start of the picks, Weaver decides to take a few risks.

Following on the heels of the Oscar-nominated Moneyball (2011) and its focus on baseball is this talky, jargon-filled look at the game behind the game of American football. Moneyball was loosely based on real people. This is a fictional account, but one that employs the names of real NFL teams and features NFL players in cameos.

Director Ivan Reitman and the screenwriters presume that the viewer has a fair amount of knowledge of the sport. Those who do not understand how the game is played will struggle when the trading day begins in earnest - this reviewer certainly did.

The NFL has a peculiar tradition. In game show- like fashion, each team takes turns to choose (or "draft") unsigned or trade players, all in a public arena. All of this takes place over the single day of the film's title. If this is anything to go by, what happens over those few hours is an anxiety-ridden game of poker, but with a few wrinkles. Teams are allowed to make swops on the sidelines, both for players and for higher or lower positions in the queue, for that day and for subsequent years.

The story follows Weaver (Costner) over the day in the hours that can decide his team's fate for the season. He and everyone else communicate in football-speak, throwing out numbers (player and team statistics, salaries) while trying to undermine one another's confidence in their own judgments. The bluffs and verbal parrying are repeated on the home front as he struggles with unsupportive mother Barb (Ellen Burstyn), a sexual relationship with colleague Ali (Jennifer Garner), an arrogant coach (Denis Leary) and a combative team owner (Frank Langella).

The acting is of an overall high standard, but the story could have been better viewed through the eyes of characters more flawed and interesting than the bland Weaver. Director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, 1984 and Kindergarten Cop, 1990) favours paciness over laboured exposition, but loses control of the melodrama in the third act.

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