“Draft Day” begins with a fumble deep in Seattle Seahawks’ territory. Fortunately, the game — and the movie — is far from over.
Although relatively low on authenticity, the recently released pro football-themed comedy-dramat ranks high in entertainment value.
As the opening day of the National Football League draft nears, Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (played by Kevin Costner) has already endured a trying week.
His father (and former Browns coach) recently died and his mother wants to spread her husband’s ashes on the team’s practice field an hour prior to the draft. He is less than thrilled by the revelation that the club’s salary cap expert (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant with his child. And Weaver’s job could be in jeopardy if he doesn’t make a high-profile first-round draft pick.
An 11th-hour call from the Seattle general manager could provide the solution to the last of those problems. Possessing the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, the Seahawks are poised to select a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Wisconsin. But they are willing to trade that pick to the Browns in exchange for first-round draft choices in each of the next three seasons.
Weaver agrees to the deal, but has second thoughts on how to use the pick when character questions about the Wisconsin quarterback begin to circulate. With the draft fast approaching, that’s a decision he needs to make quickly.
Although the story is fictional and was filmed prior to the 2013 season, the notion that the Super Bowl champion Seahawks own the draft’s top pick (traditionally the province of the league’s worst team) provides a credibility gap the filmmakers labor to overcome — particularly since the Hawks already have a pretty fair quarterback from Wisconsin named Russell Wilson. The fictional Seattle general manager, a duplicitous doofus, bears little resemblance to highly respected Seahawk GM John Schneider.
To say that “Draft Day” has other flaws is like saying just a few beers are consumed at Super Bowl parties.
Since all potential draft choices are investigated for months, it’s highly unlikely that character issues would surface at the last minute. They do, however, prompt a series of exchanges between Costner’s character and the club’s security director — who goads Weaver into asking him leading questions — that are among the funniest in the movie.
Upset by the impending draft of another quarterback, Cleveland’s incumbent quarterback trashes Weaver’s office — and gets off with a stern lecture. Note to employees: If you employ this means of displeasure, expect a stronger reaction from your supervisor.
The 59-year-old Costner and Garner (42, but looking a decade younger) are not exactly a romantic screen couple for the ages. The love story belongs in a different movie, perhaps one focusing on the consequences sleeping with the boss might have for a woman struggling to make it in a male-dominated profession.
For all its shortcomings, however, “Draft Day” is enjoyable to watch.
Veteran director Ivan Reitman captures the energy and public obsession associated with the NFL draft. He gets generally good performances from an cast that includes such varied performers as Sean Combs and 81-year-old screen legend Ellen Burstyn (as Weaver’s mother). Several sports figures, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Hall of Famer Jim Brown and broadcaster Chris Berman, have cameo roles as themselves.
An actor of notoriously limited range, Costner is convincing playing a world-weary, vulnerable character who recognizes that he is probably one wrong move away from the unemployment line. Garner does her best with a thankless role.
There are some good supporting turns from Frank Langella, as the Browns’ publicity-seeking owner, and Denis Leary, as the team’s new head coach who is surprisingly kept out of the loop as the negotiations progress.
This movie is obviously cut from the same mold as “Moneyball,” the Oscar-nominated 2011 film that dealt with the front-office workings of baseball’s Oakland Athletics. The latter film was much better crafted and had the advantage of being based on a true story, but was also pretentious at times and condescending toward some of its characters.
“Draft Day,” in contrast, doesn’t take itself too seriously. The filmmakers seem to have no greater aspirations than providing pure entertainment — and they deliver.
Viewing this film can be compared to attending a sporting event in which the home team pulls out an inartistic but exciting win. At the end of day, you’ve received your money’s worth.