After seeing the trailer for “Draft Day” a few months ago, I made the observation that Summit was clearly making no effort to sell the film to people who aren’t already interested in the NFL draft (people like me, for example). As if to prove my point, the NFL-loving friend I was with told me his reaction: “I’m sold!”
But despite the preaching-to-the-choir trailer, “Draft Day” actually does try to appeal to fans and non-fans alike — to its detriment. In trying to be accessible to people who don’t already know and care about the intricacies of the draft, while also offering enthusiasts a behind-the-scenes look at how the sausage is made, the film becomes an affable but diluted misfire that’s not really for anyone.
Thank goodness for Kevin Costner, though, you know? The 59-year-old sports-movie icon, who’s come back around to being cool again after a period of lameness, has that familiar easy-going likability as Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager of the Cleveland Browns (which I’m told is a real NFL team, as unlikely as it sounds). With fans comparing him negatively to his beloved father, whom he replaced as G.M., and with the team’s quarterback having spent much of the last season injured, Sonny is under intense pressure to make the most of this year’s draft and improve the Browns’ fortunes.
The entire film takes place on this all-important day, which director Ivan Reitman portrays with as much excitement and anticipation as he reasonably can (and then some: his overuse of split screens becomes almost parodic). Sonny spends the 12 hours leading up to the event feverishly strategizing with his staff and making deals with his counterparts at other teams to swap for higher spots in the selection process. That process isn’t “explained,” exactly, but anecdotal evidence suggests a person who had no idea how it worked beforehand would come away with a rudimentary understanding of it. Movies are educational!
Conventional wisdom says the top draft pick is hotshot QB and Heisman Trophy winner Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). Surely whichever team gets first pick will snatch him up in a heartbeat. But when it becomes Sonny’s privilege to have that first pick (thanks to some bargaining with Seattle), he’s not sure Bo is the right choice after all. Players like Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) and Ray Jennings (Arian Foster) look promising, too, and might be easier to work with than the aloof Callahan. The team’s owner (Frank Langella) and head coach (Denis Leary) want Sonny to stick with what the stats and reports say; Sonny wants to let his gut have a say, too.
You could do a lot worse than spending the day with an embattled Kevin Costner good-naturedly fending off criticism and gradually losing his patience. Costner and the cast — which also includes Jennifer Garner as his girlfriend/co-worker and Ellen Burstyn as his mother — are cheerful and eager to please. Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph’s screenplay doesn’t have much flair, but it’s congenial and sometimes funny. Strip away the NFL elements and it’s a simple, crowd-pleasing formula: a guy bucks against the system, faces opposition, and is ultimately vindicated. Scrappy Davids deliver comeuppance to smug Goliaths. Who doesn’t enjoy that?
Well, people who have invested two hours and many dollars in it, perhaps. “Draft Day” isn’t bad — I can’t imagine anyone actively disliking it — but it isn’t worth going out of your way for, either. Sports fans who pay attention to the draft in real life are bound to be disappointed by the improbable contrivances involved, while the rest of us smile wanly at the bland, featureless entertainment. A year from now, your dad will enjoy watching this on cable.
C+ (1 hr., 49 min.; )