‘Invincible’ scores for entertainment

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mark Wahlberg, formerly Marky Mark of “Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch,” is fast becoming Hollywood’s go-to-guy for movies about the regular guy who gets that one miraculous chance to make it in the big time.

In “Boogie Nights” the big time was porn. In “Rock Star” it was high-octane rock-n-roll. This time, Marky Mark gets to show off his abs once more in “Invincible,” the true story of bartender turned pro-football player Vincent Papale.

Whenever I see Mark Wahlberg, there is an instant of irritation followed by resigned acceptance. I like the guy, even though I feel like I shouldn’t. I mean, Marky Mark? C’mon. Also, his brother Donnie was part of New Kids on the Block, and I can’t support that. Despite it all, Mark Wahlberg is a good actor. He’s solid, and you feel like he’s always working at it; trying to get better.

In “Invincible” he turns in another solid performance in a solid movie that, while it breaks no new ground in the world of sports films, is entertaining and gets the job done.

Vincent Papale was one of thousands of like him. Working class Philadelphians, hit hard by the tough economic realities of the 1970s, but who loved their Philadelphia Eagles with a passion.

Unfortunately, the Eagles were in the dumps, as well. The team was on a losing streak that didn’t look to end, until new head-coach Dick Vermeil tried something a little unorthodox. He held open tryouts.

Papale, at age 30, had no college football experience, but regularly smoked all comers on the vacant lot games he and his pals played near the bar where he worked. Having just lost his wife and his part-time teaching job, Papale bowed to his friends’ cajoling and attended the tryouts.

Vermeil, impressed with Papale’s passion and stamina, took a chance and invited him to training camp. Being cut before the regular season started was almost a guarantee, but Papale, against all odds, survives the camp and goes on to unite not only his team, but his beloved city, as well.

This is pretty standard sports-movie fare. All the elements are in place. The down-and-out pals at the bar who can make it one more day if Vincent is there to fight for them. The estranged father who has one last chance to show he believes in his boy. The rookie coach with one shot to prove himself. And, of course, the out-of-nowhere phenom, past his prime, but not too old to show the professionals what real heart and character are all about.

The coolest thing about it is that it’s actually a true story.

The movie sticks pretty close to the broad facts, which are that Papale was a bartender who went on to play professional ball, becoming the NFL’s oldest rookie. Was it really “open” tryouts? I’ve heard yes and no. But beyond being an entertaining set piece for the film, that little fact isn’t really all that important.

The only place the film is disingenuous concerning the life of Papale is when they imply he had no football experience whatsoever. This simply isn’t true. For two years previous to his Eagles’ career, Papale played in the short-lived World Football League for the Philadelphia Bell. So, his “out-of-nowhere” status isn’t really accurate.

I sort of wish the movie would have included this, making it all part of his rise to the top. I mean the league folded. That could be have been a catastrophic moment where the character has to pull himself back up and prove that he’s “invincible.” You get the picture. To see the movie and imagine Papale in one way, and then to find out different is somewhat disappointing.

Factual errors aside, however, “Invincible” does exactly what it sets out to do — entertain. In addition to Wahlberg, the rest of the acting is fine. Greg Kinnear puts in an equally solid performance as coach Vermeil. I miss Kinnear’s comedy, but he’s a perfectly capable dramatic actor.

On the technical end, I particularly liked the cinematography, which imbues everything with vintage hues. It doesn’t feel like old film, but it does help put you back in that time. And, of course, this being both a sports and a Disney movie, the soundtrack is full of rockin’ hits of the 1970s. My only real complaint is the title, which sounds more like a Jet Li flick than a football movie. Oh well, you can’t have everything.

“Invincible,” despite the drive of its central character, isn’t going to set the world on fire. You’ve seen it before, but it’s kind of like comfort food — you don’t mind if it’s served up time and again. Now if only we could have gotten some of the Funky Bunch on the soundtrack, then this movie would be truly “Invincible.” Grade: B+

“Invincible” is rated PG for mild language and sports violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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