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Sports have been one of the most popular themes in movies since the beginning of the art form. There is just something about the thrill of competition; the battle to win that can add excitement to just about any story. Most of the time sports related stories have to do with either a well known hero or a new comer determined to make it against all odds. Because of this they are usually either action oriented or dramas. A List actor George Clooney has decided to go in a different direction with his sports flick ‘Leatherheads’. It is a romantic comedy that is set against a backdrop of the origins of American football. First and foremost this is not a perfect film; those are exceeding few and far between in the modern cinematic landscape. What Clooney has done is return us to a simpler age where a flick just had to be a good time and a little fun for the audience. The film may not have reached its full potential but it comes close enough to work as a light hearted movie night. After all it has some sports for the guys and a romance for the ladies making for an above average flick for your date night. A large part of this is the affability of the cast including Clooney himself. This is a change of pace from a lot of comedies that hit the Cineplex and subsequently the DVD shelves. Many comedies go down the road of raunchy humor with drugs, alcohol and nudity abounding. Naturally this gets an ‘R’ rating and is not something that could be viewed as a family film. This movie takes the path that used to be standard with some sexual innuendo but not in such an overwhelming manner to keep it from the PG-13 it received. Parents can actually sit with their older kids and enjoy this one together. The movie reported cost about $58 million to produce and although it had a somewhat lackluster opening it was a strong enough box office contender to more than make back the investment. Universal has released the movie to both DVD and Blu-ray affording you an opportunity to have some fun with this at home.

The script was created by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly both are fairly new to the trade. This is the first script for both men. Brantley does have a pertinent to this them with his direction of the 1997 movie ‘What It Was Was Football’. Reilly has one episode of the HBO series ‘Arli$$’ to his credit. It is obvious that Clooney had a lot of influence on what was used in this screenplay. The script harkens back to the odd school crazy comedies of the thirties. That was the height of intelligently written films that depended on quick paced dialogue and the sheer chemistry of the leads to succeed. In this story the elements are all there but this writing team just doesn’t seem to have the experience yet to completely pull it off. That is not to say it is bad; it just wasn’t as polished as the scripts used in the films from the thirties they were trying to emulate. The fundamental talent for these men is evident here but they are still on a learning curve in their art form. Hopefully this film was financially successful enough to give them more opportunities to hone their skills. Just because this is a light movie it doesn’t mean that it should be easy to write. Brantley and Reilly have taken on something with a reasonably high degree of difficulty. First of all it is a period piece. With a format like that the writers have to write about a time period they never personally experienced. You have to write for that time yet make it interesting for contemporary audiences. This affects the use of language, props and how people related to each other; an arduous task to be sure. Like the films this one honors the dialogue has to be quick and smart. This depends a lot of the way the actors relate as much as what is one the page. Overall the story is just wacky enough to work out but it could have been more refined.

There are few men in the world as recognizable as George Clooney. At this point in time it is difficult to remember that he was the hunky handyman on television’s ‘Facts of Life’ or the headstrong pediatrician on ‘ER’. Looking at him on the red carpet for any event and Clooney just looks like old Hollywood in his tuxedo. It is also out spoken and passionate about many charities and causes that he has supported. Clooney does seem to prefer the old days. This is only natural since he was brought up in old Hollywood as the son of reporter Nick Clooney and the nephew on the late great singer Rosemary Clooney. Clooney tried to bring back the days of live dramas in prime time TV with a black and white production of ‘Fail Safe’. This is his third time up as director following another period piece ‘Goodnight and Good Luck.’ All of this demonstrates that Clooney is a man whose imagination is captured but the golden age of films. There is a certain charm to those old movies that may not have fully translated here but the influence is great to watch. Clooney is on a mission to bring back these great films of a time long gone and if anyone can do it he can; at last a film that at least tries.

It is the mid twenties and Jimmy 'Dodge' Connelly (Clooney) is the captain of the struggling American League football team the Duluth Bulldogs. Attendance is down, sponsors have pulled their support and it looks like the end of both the team and the league. Connelly loves the thrill of the new sport so much that he is determined to find some way to save both. He sees salvation in the form of Carter "the Bullet" Rutherford (John Krasinski). He is not only incredibly fast and accurate on the field he is a World War I hero. He single handedly captured a group of Germany soldiers and has been highly decorated for his actions. He is also dashingly handsome which surely couldn’t hurt his popularity. So far Rutherford has only played college ball but Connelly will do anything to induce him to join the Bulldogs. Rutherford comes on board and Connelly finally sees hope in sight. The game has greatly increased in popularity and the fans and sponsors are lining up to return to the fold. The success gains the attention of a woman reporter in Chicago, Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger). She is hot the trail of a story that Rutherford was not the war hero that everybody thinks. It turns out that the surrender of the Germans was a lucky fluke and not the daring event that people think. Complicating matters is the growing romantic triangle between Lexie and both Connelly and Rutherford.

The template for this film is the classic romantic comedies of the thirties and forties featuring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Their performances in these movies were nothing short of magic. While Clooney and Zellweger do their level best they don’t have that degree of chemistry. It is not their fault; there was a real life romance between Hepburn and Tracy that was a legendary as their films. What Clooney does deliver is a film in the same vein that will be sure to entertain. The football sequences are down and dirty fun. This was a time in football history that the league rules were being developed. The film does capture the difference between the free for all style of football being pushed into a far more regulated game.

Universal has gone all out for the DVD and Blu-ray release of this movie. There are two versions in DVD but since one is Pan & Scan the less said the better. The video is crystal clear and the audio is robust and full. There are some extras also included for a little more fun. There are the mandatory deleted scenes as well as ‘Football’s Beginnings: The Making of Leatherheads’. Another entertaining featurette is ‘No Pads, No Fear: Creating the Rowdy football scenes’. Another featurette looks at the famous pranks that Clooney is prone to and there is a bit on the visual effects. Also included is a commentary track with Clooney and producer Grant Heslov.

Posted 09/17/08

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