1 hour, 49 minutes
What if they made a movie all about the day leading up to the Oscar telecast? You could have the various stars getting ready — the producers running through the last minute negotiations on which jokes the host would be allowed to tell. Maybe you could pepper it with flashbacks of different Academy members pondering their choices before they vote. Framing it all you could have three different young actors whose lives would be forever changed if they could just win that golden statue.
Does that sound interesting to you? Yes? No? It does to me, at least moderately, but I can guess that probably 75 percent of the people I know would say that the above plot synopsis sounds about as interesting as watching paint dry. I completely understand that feeling, because it’s exactly how I felt watching this week’s “Draft Day,” a Kevin Costner football movie that is mysteriously devoid of football.
I didn’t go into “Draft Day” with low expectations, either. I’m not a sports guy by any means, but I do like sports movies. That’s not such a strange thing. I’m not a gladiator either, but I get a kick out of watching Russell Crowe do it. So a dramedy about football from the guy who gave us “Ghostbusters,” starring “Bull Durham” seemed like a can’t miss.
Unfortunately, this movie isn’t about football, it’s about the NFL draft, where college players are selected by professional teams to fill out the next year’s rosters. This is where future stars are identified and future goats are misidentified, both given multi-million dollar salaries in the hopes of building a winning season. The man at the center of it all, at least as far as this film is concerned, is Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager of the Cleveland Browns and charged with picking the players that the Browns will draft for the coming year. Never mind that his father has just died or that his relationship with his girlfriend is beyond complicated, on this day of all days, draft day, Sonny will show everyone what he’s made of.
And so, what follows are two hours of phone calls between different coaches where a tense game of cat and mouse is played. Well, not so tense. Actually it’s more like a game of Stratego and about as interesting as watching two people play it on screen for 120 minutes. The Browns have a seventh round pick that they are willing to trade up to a first round pick by giving over the next three years’ first round picks to Seattle, or maybe they’ll give all their second round picks to Jacksonville in return for a seventh round pick.
I really didn’t understand this at all. Does everyone have a first round pick every year? If they had a seventh round pick this year, how do they know they’ll have first round picks to trade for the next three years. And how many rounds are there? There was talk of someone getting picked 150th. There aren’t 150 teams — does it cycle back around? Suffice it to say that all the horse trading was little better than gibberish to this audience member, who just kept hoping we’d eventually get to see a real game. Occasionally a highlights reel would play out on a television screen and I’d crane my neck to see past Kevin Costner on the phone so I could see some actual action.
“Draft Day” is unambiguously dull, though they never stop throwing new situations and B-level stars at you in the hopes that something will stick. Denis Leary is the angry new coach who wants to pick his own team and, when not flashing his gaudy Super Bowl ring, is constantly threatening to quit. Ellen Burstyn is Sonny’s particularly unlikable mother who insists that Sonny Sr.’s ashes must be spread all over the Brown’s practice field RIGHT NOW! Rosanna Arquette shows up for a pointless cameo where she literally has nothing to do but nod her head.
The young men vying for spot in the big leagues were genial enough, but I found it difficult to work up any concern for them. The suggestion was never that any of them were not going to play for a professional football team, just where they fell in the draft. I’m sure position affects salaries, but even the lowest paid rookie makes over $285,000 dollars a year. “C’mon Sonny!” potential star Vontae Mack complains in one of the film’s never-ending phone call scenes. “I gotta go higher than 7th, man! I gotta! I’ve got nephews to take care of.” How many nephews could Vontae possibly have that one of the lower end multi-million dollar contracts wouldn’t suffice to see to their welfare?
“Draft Day” was obviously crafted in the hopes of capturing the same kind of magic that we saw in “Moneyball,” but it never comes close. The writing is sub-par, the stakes are low, the plot is convoluted and worst of all, it never gives the audience a sense of what all this is supposed to be leading up to — players playing an actual game. I know I’m missing the point — that the draft itself is the game, that this procedural activity has become a spectator sport, breathlessly watched by everyone from bookies to armchair quarterbacks.
Unfortunately, “Draft Day” captures none of that and left me feeling, at best, confused, and at worst, bored.
“Draft Day” is rated PG-13 for some language and a whole bunch of incredibly dull phone conversations.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.