Every Wednesday Shutdown Corner will take a second to focus on a recent or not-so-recent book or movie. This week, it's "Leatherheads," directed by George Clooney and written by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly. Yes, that Rick Reilly.
If you're looking for a solid 2008 attempt at 1950s screwball comedy, "Leatherheads" is the movie for you. The lead characters are impossibly smooth and witty, and they can do things like knock policemen unconscious with a door and steal their uniforms in order to escape a raid on a speakeasy.
But I don't recall ever hearing anyone say, "You know, I'd love to see a 1950s screwball comedy right now." And if anyone did say that, they'd already have a sizable library to choose from. For example, all screwball comedies made in the 1950s.
None of that makes "Leatherheads" unenjoyable, though. It isn't. At times, it reaches the levels of clever, amusing, or engaging. If you happen to land on it while browsing across HBO (and it's been making the rounds lately), it's capable of grabbing you and giving you some moderately satisfying escapist entertainment.
Nearly all of the 114 minutes are built on George Clooney's superhuman charm. There are worse things upon which to build a movie.
Clooney plays Dodge Connelly, a guy desperate to play professional football for a living at a time when professional football drew crowds like professional roller derby draws in 2009. College football put booties in the seats, though, which is why Connelly is so interested in a fellow named Carter Rutherford.
Rutherford (John Krasinski of "The Office," with the haircut Karen made him get so he didn't look so homeless) is a Princeton University football star and war hero, and he can draw a crowd just by walking through a hotel lobby. And because Clooney is the kind of guy who can convince anyone to do anything, Rutherford is soon leaving Princeton and being paid handsomely to play for Connelly's Duluth Bulldogs, who once couldn't afford two footballs, but now have new uniforms and shiny new shoes.
Chicago Tribune reporter Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger, who more than holds her own on-screen with Clooney) is also interested in Rutherford, but only as a stepping stone in her journalism career. If she tears down Rutherford's status as a war hero, her career skyrockets ahead. But Rutherford's a sweetheart of a man, see, and thus, there's great moral conflict for Ms. Littleton. Romantic conflict, too, as both Rutherford and Connelly are smitten by the sassy dame (sorry; I got a little caught up in 1950s vibe there).
Football's the sideshow here, with the main attraction being Clooney and Zellweger's back-and-forth "I like you, so let's insult each other quickly" patter. It's difficult to grade the actual gridiron action, for a couple of reasons. One, Clooney and Krasinski aren't trying to look like Reggie Bush(notes) and Tom Brady(notes); they're trying to look like people ripped out of 1925.
And two, I try not to get too caught up in that. Movie stars aren't always great athletes. That's just how it goes. For example, if you saw Bull Durham and left the theatre thinking, "Oh, Tim Robbins had a terrible pitching motion," I don't know what to tell you. It was a great movie. If you couldn't enjoy it because Tim Robbins is not a great natural athlete, you should probably quit watching movies and become a scout for the Toronto Blue Jays.
There are interesting points made about the origins of professional football, though, and they're not totally inapplicable today. Do you think there are too many rules against having fun in today's NFL? Do you feel like some of the fun's being taken out of the game today by corporate interests?
That didn't start happening yesterday. Dodge Connelly had similar concerns in 1925.