Release date: 3 October 2014
Running time: 110 minutes
Director: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Kevin Costner, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Sam Elliott
Everything about the UK release of Ivan Reitman’s American Football drama Draft Day screams of tough sell. Despite a growing interest for the sport on these shores- thanks in part to the annual NFL game held at Wembley Stadium- it remains very much a niche market. Featuring a nauseating amount of product placement -no doubt in an attempt to grow the brand in international markets- and with the game currently reeling from horror stories of the actions of it’s players (everything from dog fighting to domestic abuse), a feel-good romp through one of the biggest days on the sporting calendar feels poorly timed.
Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver, the world-weary general manager of the Cleveland Browns, who has the thankless task of attempting to restore a once great team to glory on draft day. There is not enough available review space to fully explain the day, but it basically works the same way as team selection for a playground kick-around, with the studs being selected first, while the uncoordinated kids with asthma being thrust upon the teams unlucky enough to have the last pick. When the coveted number one choice is dropped into Weaver’s lap, he and his staff are in a race against time to decide who should be their top choice. It all sounds much ado about nothing, and it is laughable that this low stakes drama feels the need to constantly feature a countdown clock in an effort to raise the tension.
Sadly, it seems Draft Day’s stars have picked up on the lack of urgency. Costner is firmly on autopilot, yet that is nothing compared to Jennifer Garner in the love interest role. Putting in her most lifeless performance in recent memory; it is clear she doesn’t believe a single line of her dialogue. The bland central relationship between the two is made all the more unforgivable considering they are brought to the screen by the same man who gave us Venkman, Stantz and Spengler. It falls on the strong supporting cast, including Denis Leary, Sam Elliott and Chadwick Boseman to save the day. The latter does particularly well despite his limited screen time, channelling Cuba Gooding Jnr’s motor-mouth, Oscar-winning turn in Jerry Maguire.
For a game known for it’s slow, stop/start matches, we should all be grateful that Reitman is not following the same playbook. It zips along at a fair pace, playing out like those brief scenes in Jerry Maguire (a major influence here) where Tom Cruise is running around sports conferences trying to secure talent. There may not be a lot at stake but Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph’s script is pithy enough- and it is edited slickly enough- to engage even with a minimal understanding of what’s going on. It makes for a pleasant if predictable amble through the inner workings of a major sports team. An American Football movie that at the very least succeeds in being more entertaining than actually watching the sport, but that isn’t quite enough to save it.