Starring: George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Root, Wayne Duvall, Keith Loneker
Directed by: George Clooney
Without the presence of director and star George Clooney and co-star John Krasinski, Leatherheads would most likely be a terrible movie. With their combined charisma and comedic chemistry with one another, they manage to create a decent, albeit largely forgettable, entertainment experience out of an otherwise flawed film.
The movie is at its best when focused on the hijinks of Prohibition-era professional football, which barely resembles the sports and entertainment monolith that is the modern NFL. Back then, college football was seen as the legitimate pursuit, with pro football seen as a vagabond activity no better than professional wrestling. It is in this world that we’re introduced to Clooney as Dodge Connelly, the star player for the Duluth Bulldogs of a fly-by-night league where teams close up shop midseason. In a desperate attempt to save his franchise after it loses its only sponsor, Dodge convinces college star and war hero Carter Rutherford (Krasinski) to leave Princeton and come play for the Bulldogs.
Clooney is solid here, using his trademark old-Hollywood charm to power the movie. Even if his box office tallies don’t show it, he’s a true movie star who can carry a movie like this on force of personality alone. He and Krasinski exhibit genuine chemistry when paired together, with Krasinski contributing the wide-eyed likability he brings to The Office, minus the smirks thrown to the camera.
The movie is at its worst when focused on anything involving Clooney’s love interest Lexie Littleton, as played by Renée Zellweger. I don’t mean to be so harsh toward Zellweger, even though she was the only element of the movie that I wasn’t interested in seeing, as it isn’t all her fault. Some of it certainly is, with her annoying line deliveries through the side of her mouth like some old-time gumshoe and failure to establish any sustained chemistry with either man she is paired with in the movie. But ultimately, she was poorly cast, and you have to figure that some of those delivery choices are as much to blame on director Clooney as they are on Zellweger. She just isn’t strong enough a presence to go toe-to-toe with Clooney and match his charisma, which is unfortunate given how much of the story is given over to their supposed romance.
The main plot of the movie involves reporter Lexie’s attempt to uncover the truth of Carter’s military past, using her feminine wiles to get close to the star, all the while maintaining a contentious and flirtatious relationship with the older Dodge. And most of it is uninteresting and lacking spark, while rehashing Bull Durham-type bits without any of the sensuality and power of Susan Sarandon.
This disinteresting main plot often loses its way to a bunch of more disconnected scenes of what football and life was like in the roaring twenties. The result is a mashed up series of vignettes that are often amusing, but not cohesive enough to bond the movie together. Worse, the mix of slap-stick humour in the football bits with the romantic bits of the main plot, or the intended emotional impact of the resolution, don’t fit together. There’s tone shift problems throughout the film that are almost as bad as the lack of chemistry between Clooney and Zellweger (or Krasinski and Zellweger). I’d have preferred if they just stuck to the slapstick tone, and dumped the drama altogether. Clooney proves himself adept at comedy here as he did previous with O Brother, Where Art Thou?, providing the movie with its best parts by being unafraid to be the butt of several jokes.
Unfortunately, neither Clooney’s nor Krasinski’s comedic chops are enough to make Leatherheads any more than a breezy comedy that, while not a complete failure, is certainly a mild disappointment.