April 5, 2008

Leatherheads (04/05/08)

Lettergrade: D

Leatherheads, directed by and starring George Clooney, pays homage to the screwball comedy of yore while telling a faire-tale version of the formation of professional football in the 1920s. It doesn't really succeed on either count: It's a little dull and bloated to be entirely effective as a comedy, and the events on screen are so farcical that it is difficult to believe that anything that happens is based on any credible history whatsoever.

Indeed, Clooney's Dodge Connelly, an aging player who steals college football sensation Carter Rutherford (The Office's John Krazinski) away from Princeton in the interest of boosting pro football's popularity, is pretty much a work of fiction. I guess it is true that pro-football was a complete joke in the early part of the 20th century, but even a quasi-comedy about how the sport really did gain legitimacy and prominence might have been a little more engaging than this one, where everyone talks and behaves like characters from It Happened One Night and His Girl Friday (which is to say, about as authentic-feeling as Joan Rivers' face).

I hate to pile on the movie up front like this while skating right past its virtues, which are many, but I think its important to lay out all the shit that really drove me up a wall right out of the gate. On the plus side, the movie provided a good excuse for Randy Newman to write a lot of fun 20's style jazz for the soundtrack, and the sets and costumes look like they are constructed out of fine, quality materials. The movie also knows its film history, making numerous references to silent pictures of the 20s, most obviously two Harold Lloyd classics, Safety Last! and The Freshman, which I'm sure will be lost on all but the most astute of film nerds.

This is a weird feeling to describe, but going in I thought Leatherheads would be better than it is, and now that it's over, I look back and seem to think its a little better than it really was. It's one of those movies where the style kinda overwhelms everything else, including whatever sense of fun might have been in the script at its initial inception. A symptomatic example of this is that fact that the movie has a lot of potentially interesting side characters, but only a few of them ever really get fleshed out, therefore making their presence in the movie a frustrating reminder of missed opportunity.

Another weird thing is the messed up sense of pacing and timing. Consider the sequence early in the picture where Renee Zellweger, who again perfects her grown-up Lisa Simpson impersonation, is assigned to get the dirt on John Krasinski and deflate his war record a little. The scene is fine, in and of itself, but from it we go into a long sequence where Clooney's football team disbands and everyone goes their separate ways. Clooney himself grows a beard and sort of bottoms out before coming up with the idea of recruiting Krazinski, which he is able to do after a bit of skillful coaxing. When he goes to a hotel to meet with a prominent money-man, Zellweger finally shows up, and has some dialogue that indicates that only, like, three days have passed since we last saw her!

This is the third movie that Clooney has directed, following Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind and 2005's Good Night And Good Luck, for which he got a best director nomination. All three films are highly stylized period pieces that I've found to be a bit tough to get through. I did admire Good Night on many levels, but I suspect that had more to do with what the movie was about more than the somewhat unappealing way in which it was made.

After the shit-heap that was 1997's Batman & Robin, Clooney decided that he had enough money to pretty much do as he pleased, and accordingly used his clout to get a lot of really good pictures through the system. I won't blame him for embarking on films that looked like they might have been good, but turned out not to be (Solaris, The Perfect Storm, The Good German, et al). I will, however, take issue with endeavors like the Ocean's 11 trilogy, not a single installment of which was comprehensible or seemed to be about anything other than making money.

Leatherheads, Clooney's first big financial failure in a while, clearly wasn't made with insane profits in mind, but I have to wonder that since it's a sports movie with very little athletic activity, and because it's a romantic comedy where the leads don't seem all that attracted to eachother, what, exactly, was the idea behind making it?

No comments:

Post a Comment