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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Gridiron Goofs
by Adam Hakari

In recent years, George Clooney has successfully jumped from matinee movie star to skilled filmmaker. Leatherheads marks his third directorial effort after taking on more heavy topics in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck.  This latest movie is his first foray into the arena of flat-out crowd-pleasing entertainment. It's not entirely mainstream, however, as its intentions are geared slightly more toward being artistic than just another goofball comedy. As long as you enter the theater in the right frame of mind, you'll have no problem scoring yourself some of the charm Leatherheads gives away by the gross.

The year is 1925, and pro football finds itself in a sorry state of affairs. Amid flagging attendance and budget cuts, teams are falling apart. Dodge Connelly (Clooney) serves as captain of such a team, the struggling Duluth Bulldogs. When the wave of cutbacks hits his beloved crew, Dodge scrambles to discover a way to keep the team afloat. He soon finds his ticket to ride in the form of Carter "The Bullet" Rutherford (John Krasinski), a war hero and stellar college football champ. Sure enough, after coercing young Carter to join the Bulldogs, attendance picks up fast, with the team going from getting into fights on the field to actually winning a few games for a change. But it's not long before Dodge becomes involved in a love triangle pitting him and Carter against one another for the affections of Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), a spunky reporter with a secret agenda of her own.

A few days before I saw Leatherheads, I read a webcomic that questioned why one should see the movie. Being a pre-Depression Era comedy about the early days of professional football, the flick has its work cut out for it in trying to pin down its target demographic (it's certainly not the one that made Meet the Spartans the number-one movie in the country -- you know who you are). Admittedly, despite its goofball spirits and high-profile stars, this isn't a movie guaranteed to please all palates. Leatherheads pays homage to the films that inspired it instead of adding to their ranks. Its premise -- the story of a bunch of guys who lived to play football in a time before rules came along and changed everything -- reflects its own storytelling style. The movie harkens back to a time when films  were made simply to be enjoyed and not completely inspired by some greedy executive's quest for a little more cash. Being a die-hard cinema nerd, that's an idea I can definitely get behind.

But Leatherheads is not all business and no pleasure. Clooney has crafted the story into a shining example of pure screwball idealism, with plenty of solid laughs to be had all around. Still, at almost two hours,  Leatherheads often finds itself running on moxie alone, without providing much real content. The material seems stretched way too thin at times; it's a  combination of genre tribute and entertainment value more skillfully done by filmmakers like Clooney's old buddies, the Coen Brothers. However, Clooney manages to take most of the movie and turn it into an entertaining ride. The man himself appears at his roguish best as Dodge, a fast-talking shyster willing to keep the spirit of pro football alive and kicking at all costs. Krasinski also fares well here as the wide-eyed boy wonder Carter, his Everyman demeanor a good fit for the character's shoes. I still can't say I'm a big Zellweger fan, but to my relief, her performance doesn't involve as much squinting of the eyes and pursing of the lips as her roles usually end up with. Plus, the eye-catching cinematography and excellent Randy Newman score do a great job of setting just the right mood for the story. 

Much like the "athletes" it depicts, Leatherheads doesn't always have its act together. It's a little rough around the edges and could've used a rewrite or two to shave off some of the thematic fat. But if you're in the mood for a movie that, at the end of the day, is all about having a few good laughs and a heaping helping of 1920s nostalgia, Leatherheads is sure to give you just what you're looking for.

MY RATING: *** (out of ****)

(Released by Universal Pictures and rated "PG-13" for brief strong language.)

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