Kevin Costner takes a break from baseball pictures to make a football film playing Sonny Weaver Jr., the desperate general manager of the failing Cleveland Browns.
In Ivan Reitman’s intelligent but sometimes exhausting new comedy-drama, “Draft Day,” the Ohio team is demoralized by a losing streak when Sonny gambles by announcing a trade early in the morning of draft day.
His savvy, recently widowed mother (Ellen Burstyn) is appalled, and so are the feisty Cleveland coach (Denis Leary) and the team’s threatening owner (Frank Langella). Sonny’s not-so-secret girlfriend (Jennifer Garner), who is also the team’s devoted salary-cap manager, is harder to read.
Is she just a standard-issue movie girlfriend, or does her claim that “I am football” have any merit? Garner works hard to give the part some passion and ambiguity, but the script by first-timers Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman doesn’t always back her up.
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The Seattle Seahawks play a key supporting role in the plot, which suggests how much intrigue and compromise have to do with final trading choices in football. Suspense revolves largely around what Sonny will do next and the tension can feel contrived.
Reitman, whose best comedies include “Dave” and “Ghostbusters,” relies heavily on split-screen techniques to suggest the merging of personalities in the talky confrontation scenes. It works when the actors and the writing are sharp.
Leary, Langella and Sam Elliott (in a cameo as a crusty old pro) are at their best here. So are Chadwick Boseman (who played Jackie Robinson in last year’s “42”) and Burstyn, who gets the snappiest lines before her character goes soft.
Costner, naturally, carries the movie and gives it drive and focus.
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org