by Tony Dayoub
Considering the number of movies he's been appearing in lately, it's safe to say Kevin Costner's latest comeback tour is in full swing. With the possible exception of the standout part as Superman's human foster dad in Man of Steel, which was really just that of a supernumerary, Draft Day represents his best chance at captivating audiences once again. I've always kind of rooted for Costner who seems like a down to earth actor with more than an above average measure of self-awareness. He knows his performance range is limited, but within that narrow territory, he's usually aces. Sometimes he even surprises, like he did as the retired pro baseball player part of the boyfriend in The Upside of Anger. In Draft Day he benefits from teaming up with a comedic filmmaker Ivan Reitman, another man with something to prove after years of sub-par movies and hanging back while allowing his son Jason, director of Juno, to grab the spotlight for a bit.
Somewhat amazingly for this even less than casual sports fan, Costner and Reitman are able to craft a pleasant, if rather innocuous, entertainment out of Draft Day. Structured around the once ignored, now overpromoted, day in which NFL fans bite their nails wondering what new players will end up on their team of choice, Draft Day is really just part character study/part NFL ad focusing on Costner's Sonny Weaver, Jr., general manager of the so-down-they-can-only-go-up Cleveland Browns. Weaver is the kind of role within Costner's comfortable wheelhouse, a not quite over-the-hill sports guy who's out to prove he isn't all washed up. He's the man with his job on the line if his picks prove less than adequate. Weaver must juggle a multitude of pressures. His girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner), the team's lead attorney, just told him she's pregnant. Cleveland fans judge Weaver harshly against the long shadow of his late father, the team's former coach until Junior himself fired him. His new and still unproven coach, Vince Penn (Denis Leary) is demanding and contentious. Finally, there are his top picks for a spot on the team, a slew of players (two played with a lot of heart by Chadwick Boseman and Tom Welling) who are all, for some reason or other, questionable choices.
Reitman uses some pretty nifty split-screen effects to dramatize what is essentially a series of office stand-offs conducted over phone lines. Notable character actors like Pat Healy and Wallace Langham play rival GMs who wheel and deal with Weaver, offering their rank on the trading hierarchy in return for the chance to get the Browns' top draft picks in the coming years. Reitman places them onscreen with Costner, dynamically raising the tension by juxtaposing close-ups of one character against wide-angle reaction shots of the rival GM and his war room of coaches and assistants. Sometimes he even has the subject of one side of the split-screen walk across the other person's side as he shifts the background to have the original man's side of the screen meet him at the end of the short pan across.
Distracting? A little, but it sure beats the traditional back-and-forth that would have resulted had Reitman stuck to the established rules of cutting such phone conversations. It also peps up the kind of sports film that has no actual physical display of athletics to speak of. The frequent digression to Weaver's romance with Ali grows a bit tiresome because... who are they fooling? Draft Day has zero chance of appealing to the female non-sports fan contingent, mushy stuff included or not. Otherwise, Draft Day is a diverting enough bit of sports fluff that I'm hoping it revives the moribund careers of two journeymen I've kind of missed.