The first time we saw the Draft Day trailer, we thought it was an over-the-top ESPN Draft coverage promo. It turned out to be a real film. The end product was about what one would expect given the premise and the corporate interest.
An NFL Draft is an unnatural fit for the big screen. There’s little action involved. It’s people sitting around offices talking on phones. There’s no sporting contest, and thus no natural vehicle for conflict and resolution. Time is condensed. It has almost no import outside football. A determinate outcome may take years. Forming that event into a credible movie required an eventful draft plot fleshed out with a botox treatment of human drama. Draft Day tried.
The football plot stretches credibility, even for the casual football fan (who else was the target for this movie?). Browns GM Kevin Costner, instructed to make a splash, trades the No. 7 overall pick and two additional first-round picks to Seattle for No. 1 to draft a Golden Boy QB from Wisconsin on a whim. Researching Golden Boy, begun on draft day itself, reveals he is a liar, a fraidy cat and a possible sociopath. Only the Browns figure this out.
Sunglasses-at-night-wearing owner wants Golden Boy. Coach Dennis Leary/Switzer wants to trade the No. 1 for a running back and draft picks. Costner, based on intuition and a post-it note, drafts the sympathetic linebacker he was planning to draft at No. 7. Everyone wants to kill him.
Instead of throwing on a pair of Beats and departing, Costner makes some serious lemonade. Seeing Golden Boy falling, he trades three second-round picks to Jacksonville to get back into the first round at No. 6. He somehow bluffs the Seattle GM, under fire for trading out of the No. 1 slot, into trading both the additional first round picks back (and a punt returner for spite) to move from No. 7 to No. 6 and draft Golden Boy. The Seattle GM is, in a comprehensive reversal, hoisted on his own petard.
The owner receives his splash. The coach obtains his running back. QB1, coming off injury, saves his job. Costner gets his groove back. Seattle saves money on Golden Boy at a lower draft slot. Everyone wins, except Jacksonville. The film helpfully telegraphed the plot by introducing only three players.
Costner’s professional rebirth coincides with his personal rebirth. He must come to terms with his legendary father’s very recent death and the news that his Salary Cap analyst cum closet office girlfriend Jennifer Garner is pregnant. It’s quite the 15 hours, despite nothing violent, sexual or even moderately amusing happening. Each conversation is chalk full of overwrought nuggets of wisdom.
Draft Day truly resembles an over-the-top NFL promo. Sets are sleek and shiny, with a hearty beige undertone. Product placement is gratuitous. Each team (including Cleveland, Buffalo and Jacksonville) is introduced with a sweeping shot of beautiful waterfront followed by an aerial arc over the new, state-of-the-art stadium. No one utters the word “concussion.”
NFL sensibility saps the film of any latent vitality it could have mustered. Every potential for offense, notably Jennifer Garner’s femininity and Dennis Leary’s take on Barry Switzer, is sanitized and castrated for broad public consumption. There’s no place for the plot to veer. When Costner drops his triumphant f-bomb, it just feels out of place and comical.
Draft Day fits the Kevin Costner oeuvre. He’s competent (British accent excepted). He’s handsome, but not descriptively so. He neither adds nor subtracts value. He delivers with a great script. He won’t deliver you from a steaming, unwieldy turd.
Where does this film fit within the Costner power rankings? Below Waterworld. If you’re going to fail, fail with gusto.
[Photos via Getty, USA Today Sports]