Finding intrigue and drama in the way our entertainment is created has a long tradition. The chief sponsor of “The Jack Benny Program,” be it Lucky Strike or Grape Nuts, was as key of a character as Rochester or Mary Livingston. David Letterman's old 12:30 show was shocking in how it called attention to the cameras and cue card guys. The Internet has just as much talk about opening weekend grosses than the actual content of new films. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” warned the Wizard of Oz. We haven't been listening.
This fascination has spilled over into sports, with the NFL Draft becoming a big deal even for medium-level fans. To the disinterested, it is a Byzantine set of strange rules – pretty much the jock version of the last fifteen minutes of “Trading Places.” But to those who follow stats, the evening broadcast from New York's Radio City Music Hall is a thrill-a-minute carnival where fortunes are made and futures are destroyed. (See the heartbreaking documentary “Lenny Cooke” for an instance of the latter.)
It was only a matter of time that a movie be made about the drama of the NFL draft, and, in perfect Hollywood form, I'm told by sports fans at my screening that “it doesn't really work that way.”
No matter. Because by the end of the wheeling and dealing you'll be cheering for Kevin Costner and his aides-de-camp played by Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary and Griffin Newman. I know you'll be cheering because even I was cheering and there's absolutely nothing I could give less of a rat's ass about than a bunch of millionaire steroid freaks who get to play a violent game for a living.
Costner plays the son of a football coach legend named Sonny. Talk about living in Dad's shadow. He's the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, a team that sucks, but has a lot of heart. This is going to be his year! The team owner, the perennially sunglasses-wearing Frank Langella, urges him to make a splash, so he makes a crazy trade with the Seahawks. He gets their first round pick – a hotshot young quarterback – in exchange for three years of future first round picks.
Costner does the deal then immediately has buyer's remorse. The rest of the movie is him basically scheming to get himself out of this jam while also doing what is right for the team, for Cleveland, for his family legacy, for God and country. Oh, and he also has to make up with his mom and reconnect with his girlfriend who has just announced that she's pregnant. Maybe he even fixes the leaky faucet in the kitchen and balances his checkbook, too, I can't remember everything. But Kevin Costner couldn't be better cast. He's a real man but also a nice guy. It's the part he was born to play. The tan slacks-wearing part he was born to play.
At some in the development of “Draft Day” director Ivan Reitman must have realized he was making a movie with flat television lighting in a handful of bland sitcom-y sets, so he added a little bit of visual panache in a split-screen editing gimmick. When a guy in Cleveland is on the phone with a guy from Seattle they can pace on the phone and walk into one another's space. It's like a QB's trick play, and kinda neat. There's also a moment when Costner asks someone to replay a video over and over that evokes “back and to the left” from Stone's “JFK.” Hard not to smile.
While “Draft Day” is a very agreeable and predictable movie, it is also very timely. Consider our newest craze: the age of Normcore. It's the most Normcore movie that ever lived. It's by and for normal people with normal interests. You can take a fifteen minute pee break and not miss anything. More surprisingly, it's actually not bad.