"Draft Day" feels like a play, and I don't mean a football play. It feels like a play-play at its sporadic best, in the same way J.C. Chandor's 2011 "Margin Call" felt that way.
Set mostly in a series of offices across 13 hours in a pressure-cooked day, the film lives and dies on the low-key, take-it-easy spectacle of Kevin Costner maneuvering his way through an administrative obstacle course, crises intermingling with draft-pick opportunities. Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., the (fictional) general manager of the Cleveland Browns. Sonny's travails are many. His lover, who manages the salary cap for the team, is pregnant. Jennifer Garner plays the woman with the ledger, blessed with a bottomless well of patient understanding, if not enough decent scenes.
Sonny's living in the shadow of his late, great father, a coaching icon in Cleveland. The Browns are going into the draft with the seventh pick. The team's coach, portrayed by Denis Leary, has zero faith in his boss's vision. The game plan for the movie is simple in one way, complicated in another. Possible team saviors on draft day include an Ohio State University linebacker (Chadwick Boseman); a flashy University of Wisconsin quarterback (Josh Pence); and a Florida State running back with a rap sheet (Arian Foster). Who gets picked, for what, and when, and why — this is Sonny's business, and we're allowed into only so much of his planning, sequence to sequence, in "Draft Day."
Frank Langella thunders and swans around as the team owner, who has his own notions about how to maximize draft day for public relations purposes.
Those are the complications. The simpler angle here, as directed by Ivan Reitman and acted by Costner, is the beleaguered good guy in the midst of the chaos. I suspect late-middle-aged men of all shapes and sizes will find something appealing about this project. "Draft Day" argues for letting managers manage, without meddling or second-guessing. They know best. Sonny wants good people, not just good football players, around him and beside him. A lot of the general audience sympathy for Costner's Sonny would vanish in a millisecond if the audience had been reminded of the protagonist's probable $2 million or $3 million salary. But as screenwriters Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman probably figured: Some details are better left un-detailed.
It's a moderately engaging wish-fulfillment fantasy, a long way from the surprising ins and outs and stealthy dramatic impact of "Moneyball" (the front-office sports movie to beat) but not bad for what it is. Costner's range as an actor remains an open question, more open than his range, certainly. But he carries the movie easily and well. Be warned, though: By the 30-minute mark, director Reitman's ridiculous overuse of split screen, distinguished by the gimmicky addition of actors appearing to bust across the split-screen line at will, is enough to make you revolt — or check out a soccer movie instead.
"Draft Days" - 2 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and sexual references)
Running time: 1:49
Opens: FridayCopyright © 2015, RedEye