'Draft Day' review: Should've gone straight to the NFL Network

RedEye's Matt Pais and Ernest Wilkins fly through those movies (plus "Cheap Thrills") in a speed-round version of "Good or What?"

** (out of four)

Sports movies’ bad timing can be hilarious. 2010’s little-seen romantic comedy “Just Wright” starred Common as the leader of the playoff-contending New Jersey Nets and opened during a season when the team nearly secured the NBA’s all-time worst record. Oops.

Now it’s “Draft Day,” which centers on the 2014 NFL draft (beginning May 8) and depicts a world in which the Seattle Seahawks, who in real life just won the Super Bowl, need to “save football” in the city—perhaps behind star QB Bo Callahan (Josh Pence, the body of one of the Winklevii in “The Social Network”). Huh? Since only football fans will watch a movie set entirely on draft day, this seems like a problem.

With Callahan ripe for the picking, desperate Cleveland Browns GM Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner), whose own job is potentially on the line, deals Seattle for its top pick and the opportunity to draft the consensus No. 1 prospect. But is Callahan really so great? Most of “Draft Day” finds Sonny, who on the same morning learns that his colleague/girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant, pursuing advanced intelligence about Callahan. He also considers running back Ray Jennings (Houston Texans RB Arian Foster) and middle linebacker Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman of “42”), who may have character and determination that perceived golden boy Callahan doesn’t.

Aside from being disturbingly predictable and as detached from reality as the overrated “Moneyball,” “Draft Day” emphasizes intended heart-tugging subplots (including the recent death of Sonny’s father) as if the film exists to show what a nice, human league this really is. That actually felt sincere in “Jerry Maguire.” In “Draft Day,” the watery Costner doesn’t so much hold the screen as tread in it with the charisma of a hard-boiled egg. He’s sleepy even when “tough” and not a canny enough actor to pull off a multi-dimensional Sonny.

It never hurts to recognize that a team drafts a person, not just a player, and an athlete’s character counts to a degree. But “Draft Day,” which is no “Major League,” has more in common with director Ivan Reitman’s late-career output (“Six Days, Seven Nights,” “Father’s Day”) than his early work (“Ghostbusters,” “Stripes”). It also shouldn’t treat viewers like morons by identifying a city, showing a shot of a stadium and then labeling it as, “Home of the Texans.” This audience knows what team plays in Houston!

Watch Matt review the week's big new movies Fridays at noon on NBC.

mpais@tribune.com

 

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