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The first thing that struck me about “Draft Day,” the new film centering on the NFL Draft was this: I'm glad to see Kevin Costner move up and into the front office.
Costner realizes he can't be a player anymore, even though he was one of the most convincing actors-as-athletes of our time. He's done a number of sports movies and I easily bought that he could play baseball (“Bull Durham”), golf (“Tin Cup”) and harass James Earl Jones (“Field of Dreams”).
Anyway, Costner's aging now and brings a nice shade of ex-jock to his role as Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager of the Cleveland Browns in “Draft Day,” which opened Friday at a number of local theaters.
As a writer who covers the NFL, I'm here to assess not whether Costner can act but whether the film has an authenticity to it in connection with the NFL and its annual over-hyped draft.
Let me state first: You always know you're watching a movie except when you think you're watching a commercial for the NFL.
You never get completely lost in the storyline (although the last 25 minutes comes close). You never think this is really the NFL draft no matter how many cameos by Jon Gruden, Deion Sanders or Roger Goodell. You're always aware that Costner is Costner and Jennifer Garner is Jennifer Garner. She's very good at that role, incidentally. But I digress.
There are moments that are just too far over the edge to ring true.
A couple of those (very minor spoiler alerts):
* Potential draft pick Vontae Mack calls Weaver to campaign to be drafted by the Browns. The idea that a draft pick would call a GM directly seems far-fetched. But it's good for the drama and, again, this is a movie.
* Browns coach Vince Penn (Denis Leary) sets a paper on fire and lays it on Weaver's desk, catching more paper on fire. Would anyone, let alone an NFL coach making millions, do such a thing? Penn also spends a lot of time second-guessing and belittling his boss without hesitation or fear of being fired. Imagine a coach acting this way to former Colts GM Bill Polian. I'll admit. That would be entertaining.
*The GM of the Jacksonville Jaguars is portrayed as a na´ve pushover. The Jaguars wouldn't be the power they are in real life if that were actually the case. Wait. I might have to rethink this one.
There's line early on when the GM of the Seattle Seahawks is asked, “Who's the most desperate guy you know?” and they cut to the Cleveland Browns facility. Browns fans know the truth hurts.
The NFL's participation in this project is obvious from the fact the movie makers were allowed to film at the actual draft and real NFL Network and ESPN analysts appear. The team headquarters, offices, practice facilities and locker rooms look exactly right. It's the ultimate in product placement in a movie.
Houston Texans running back Arian Foster plays running back Ray Jennings and while his actual acting scenes are small, he does a terrific job. If you didn't know he was an NFL player, you would assume he's a professional actor.
One minor acting quibble: I'm not buying Denis Leary as an NFL coach. Good actor. Doesn't feel like a coach to me. Also, his character was so far over the top he makes Jim Harbaugh or Rex Ryan look like wallflowers.
Incidentally, the hotshot quarterback from Wisconsin that's the prized No.1 pick, is touted as the “best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck.” Luck was drafted way, way back in 2012.
NFL fans should enjoy the movie, simply because it offers a glimpse into what it “might” look like behind the scenes, only with more one-liners and caricatures.
The movie “Draft Day” most reminds me of is “Blue Chips,” the 1994 film that starred Nick Nolte as a college coach patterned after Bob Knight. Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway and former IU standout Matt Nover played basketball players, believe it or not.
I like but don't love “Blue Chips,” mainly because I enjoy college basketball. I liked but didn't love “Draft Day” mainly because I enjoy the NFL, and it captured some of the feel of the NFL Draft (as seen on television, at least). As buildup to this year's draft, it will whet an NFL fan's appetite. The climax of the movie feels like you do when your team pulls out a last-second win. (If you think I'm spoiling thing by saying Costner wins in the end, you haven't seen a Costner sports movie.)
Ultimately, Costner's latest won't join “Field of Dreams” or “Bull Durham” in his roster of All-Pro movies. I'd call “Draft Day” a late fourth-round pick with some upside.