Three stars. Rated PG-13, for occasional profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.11.14
I’ve no doubt that a compelling film could be spun from the suspense, acrimony, dashed hopes and back-room negotiating that lead up to the annual NFL draft, but scripters Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman didn’t find it.
Nor did director Ivan Reitman, who can’t seem to decide whether he’s making a mild farce or a straight drama. No surprise, since Reitman remains best known for his 1980s triple-play of Stripes, Ghostbusters and Twins. He’s not done so well of late, with a string of forgettable junk that includes Evolution and My Super Ex-Girlfriend.
But sports drama? Not even close. Reitman’s most mature and subtly pleasing effort remains 1993’s Dave, which owes its juice to Gary Ross’ superlative script and Kevin Kline’s sublime starring performance.
Draft Day has neither. Kevin Costner tries his best with this flimsy material, but his limited thespic range isn’t up to the subtlety demanded by his role. It’s pretty bad when we can’t tell the difference between Costner looking happy, looking worried or looking irritated. It’s all the same bland expression.
Comparisons to Moneyball are inevitable, since both films deal with the fine points of building a winning sports franchise. But that’s where the comparison ends; Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian wrote a genius script for Moneyball — working from a story by Stan Chervin, and a book by Michael Lewis — and the result was mesmerizing drama that drew much of its power from the clever way we were inserted into the action. Most crucially, Moneyball never talked down to its audience.
Rothman and Joseph, in great contrast, assume that we’re blithering idiots; their screenplay gracelessly spoon-feeds details in a way that becomes quite tiresome. (This project unbelievably topped Hollywood’s 2012 “Black List” of best unproduced scripts.) As we initially visit each of the football franchises involved with this story, a text card gives us the city, in bold type (CLEVELAND!), followed by a second card that identifies the team with the sort of breathless emphasis associated with screaming tabloid headlines (Home of the BROWNS!).
Actually, that’s not Reitman’s worst stylistic offense. He and cinematographer Eric Steelberg obviously adore their horizontal cross-fades, with one image sliding across the screen to intersect with another, sometimes allowing a foreground figure to “intrude” into the neighboring scene. It’s a slick trick, visually ... the first time. And the second. Maybe even the third.
By the 50th time, however, we’re well and truly sick of it. Camera gimmicks of this nature only succeed when they’re a) instrumental to the story; and b) employed sparingly. The finest example remains Haskell Wexler’s use of split screens in 1968’s original Thomas Crown Affair, a pinnacle seldom achieved since then. Steelberg’s technique here does absolutely nothing to advance the story; he’s merely showing off.