There’s Not Much Football Or Entertainment in “Draft Day” (2014)


2/10

Draft_Day_poster
It’s pretty easy to see how numerous powerful people in Hollywood looking to make a quick couple million bucks thought that the concept behind “Draft Day” (2014) couldn’t miss.  It’s basically “Moneyball” (2011), but with the most popular sport in America and Jennifer Garner in the place of Jonah Hill to tell the behind-the-scenes story of the NFL Draft that no one gets to see, with full cooperation of the NFL.  If ESPN with Chris Berman and Mel Kiper can pull off making entertainment out of the draft for four full days, certainly, the thinking goes, it can be made into a two hour Hollywood film.

It can’t. And any football fan who’s gone to see the NFL draft live knows why. After all, there’s simply not that much that happens at the event.

The first day of the draft may stretch for nearly six hours, but for any single team, most of that time is waiting for the turn to make a pick.  “Draft Day” is essentially an effort to leverage the half an hour of excitement leading up to the pick into two hours of dramatic entertainment.

And so it is that the film ends up spending a lot of time and characters with storylines that have little to do with football, much less the draft.

Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver, Jr., the general manager of the ever hapless Cleveland Browns working on his third draft.  His boss is the overbearing owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), who has forced on Weaver a Super Bowl-winning coach Vince Penn (played by the over-the-top Denis Leary) and has threatened to fire Weaver if he doesn’t make a splash with the team’s sixth overall pick.  Every pundit says that that splash choice is Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from University of Wisconsin who purportedly can’t miss.

For Weaver, though, getting threatened by his boss is the least of his problems.  He has so much personal life going on at his workplace that it’s a wonder how he gets through a routine day, much less Draft Day.  He’s in a relationship with salary gap guru Ali Parker (Jennifer Garner), who says she has nothing but football in her blood yet tells Weaver that she’s pregnant with his child the day before his most important day of the year.  Unsurprisingly, Weaver doesn’t respond well to the news, so Weaver and Parker spend a fifth of the movie in an office supply closet trying to sort this issue out.

Adding to Weaver’s personal drama is the death of his father, Sonny Weaver, Sr., who was a legendary coach of the Browns that Weaver, Jr. fired in his first year as GM.  Not much payoff in either plot or character development comes from this background, but it does provide an excuse for Weaver’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) to show up at her son’s workplace on his most important day to demand that he participate in a ritual to spread his father’s ashes over the team’s practice field.

In-between dealing with his girlfriend and avoiding his mother, Weaver somehow manages to get some work done as the general manager, making calls to other GMs scheming for a deal.  The GM trying to take most advantage of him is Tom Michaels (Patrick St. Esprit) of the Seattle Seahawks, who has the first pick of the NFL Draft.  Michaels, sensing desperation, offers to Weaver the first overall pick of the draft, and therefore, Callahan.

The price?  Cleveland’s first round pick for the next three years.

Not even Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins is dumb enough to make such a trade, but somehow Weaver does and Molina is thrilled.

What’s left to fill time until the actual draft begins are fleeting scenes with Ohio State linebacker Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) whom Weaver really likes, Florida State running back Ray Jennings (Arian Foster) who’s liked by Coach Penn, and incumbent nice-guy quarterback Brian Drew (Tom Welling) whose place on the team is jeopardized by the possible arrival of Callahan.  It’s hard to care about any of these characters because the film shows more interest in the first-day intern (Griffin Newman) becoming the punching bag of everyone at the office.

By the time the draft begins and the film finally gets to talking about football, a suffocating feeling of boredom has settled in.  The movie tries to add some excitement when Weaver chooses someone other than Callahan with the first overall pick, but what Weaver manages to engineer thereafter is so preposterous that it’s hard to take even the football stuff seriously.

Not that getting the football right could have saved this train wreck.

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