Review: “Draft Day” scouting report – NFL fans should wait

April 11th, 2014 at 12:01 am by under Entertainment
"Draft Day" poster courtesy Summit Entertainment

“Draft Day” poster courtesy Summit Entertainment

“Draft Day” (2014)
Rated: PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language and sexual references
Runtime: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Genre: Sports Drama

My spoiler-free review:

As a huge fan of NFL football, a long-time fan of a struggling team, and somewhat of a draft nerd, I really wanted to like this movie.  Even though it appeals to more than just football fans, with its behind-the-scenes of NFL drama, its no “Moneyball” (2011) and certainly not Kevin Costner’s best sports movie.  Setting this movie at the upcoming 2014 draft caused it to have too many factual issues which challenged my ability to believe a movie that tries so hard to be realistic.  I give it 6.0 out of 10.  This may actually play better for moviegoers who are not pro football fans.

Warning to parents: the movie is rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language and sexual references

Since this movie was filming several months before the start of the 2013 NFL, it makes sense that the filmmakers wouldn’t know the outcome of the season, and wouldn’t know which team would have the pivotal number one pick in the 2014 draft.  However, why did you choose the Seattle Seahawks?  Sure the franchise has never won a Super Bowl and for years (I have been a fan since 1984) they were a team in the top or middle of the draft, having missed the playoffs for many years.  But the rebuilding is over and they have been a more likely playoff team recently, and were a 2014 preseason favorite by many analysts.

I’m not bothered that the writers made my favorite team the “villain” of the movie… its that they set the draft of this movie in the present months from now at the 2014 draft… and in the movie the Seahawks have that number one pick and are willing to make a trade with the Cleveland Browns, the team that Kevin Costner is running as the General Manager.  But in the real world 2014 draft… the Houston Texans have the first pick and the Seahawks have the 32nd pick.   Everyone who pays attention to the draft knows that, barring an earlier trade, the team with the worst record in the league gets the first pick, not the team that just won the Super Bowl.  Also, in the movie, the general manager of the Seahawks wants the hottest prospect in the draft, a quarterback.  Anyone who watched the NFL playoffs or the Super Bowl knows that Seattle doesn’t need a quarterback, we’re just fine with Russell Wilson.  There are also moves made on the day of the draft because of players they have on their team that conflict with real players on their team.  Like the characters saying the Denver Broncos wouldn’t take a quarterback because they have (?) Garrett.  I’m sorry, but does the writer know that they have future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning?

So the first advice for anyone who wants to do a movie pulling back the curtain on how NFL teams work… set it in the not-so-distant future where the draft selection and the players on the team could make more sense.  The movie is trying to be real, but lives in a fictional alternate universe set in the present, because the movie uses fictional players currently on the team and as college prospects, but still tries to be authentic by using real retired players, real NFL media, and the real commissioner.   ”Draft Day” doesn’t feel as real as a behind-the-scenes movie about a professional sports team’s General Manager (GM), the way “Moneyball” (2011) did.  The Brad Pitt film included real athletes and actors but using the names of real players, combined with actual footage and Brad Pitt was hidden inside his character, who was a real-life GM not a alternate universe fictional GM dealing with fictional players and fictional prospects.

As important as the day of the draft is, there’s more going on in the preseason leading up to that big day.  Some players on the roster are resigned at the end of the season, some become free agents, some get traded, some retire… the GM has to deal with all of these things and then tries to make some moves himself to fill the needs that might not be filled in the draft.  Then there’s the scouting and prepping for the draft … and not just the first round pick.  There are four days, 7 rounds of picks!  Some teams pick more than once in a round, but the average team has 7 picks total.  Many teams live and die with their first round picks, but many teams thrive making great picks AFTER the first round.  NFL nerds will know that.  This is your core audience.  The peripheral audience of casual fan, friends of fans, or dates of fans, might not… but who are you appealing to then?  ”Draft Day” does not address anything else in the off-season except focus on the first round of the draft.  I know the movie is called “Draft Day” so technically its about the first round, but a GM’s job is never done… he wouldn’t go off to his office after he makes his one pick, and he wouldn’t go to a party at the end of the first round… he has three more days, 6 more rounds to think about.

So enough about the football… I guess the movie’s strength has to focus on the drama… the relationship then, of the people involved in these make or break decisions regarding the franchise.  Costner is Costner.  Solid but very Costner.  This could have been one of many different Costner characters dropped in this role and he would act very similar.  His character wasn’t unique enough to separate him from the actor, so I had a hard time not seeing Costner when we see his character ‘Sonny Weaver, Jr.’.  The story is interesting… he has a challenging day, not only is the draft the beginning of a make or break season for him, everyone in his life is pulling at him for attention… his co-worker ‘Ali’ (Jennifer Garner), the owner (Frank Langella), his mom (Ellen Burstyn), Coach Penn (Dennis Leary), the other coaches and staff, and even his new intern ‘Rick’ (Griffin Newman).  Leary’s ‘Coach Penn’ is cliche.  Too cliche.  He puffs himself up, he’s the tough talking know it all that came from a bigger market and he’s got all the answers.  The executives helping with the draft are not all that smart.  The exception is ‘Ali’ (Garner) she is smart and knows football, and is good at her job, although we only get one real mention of what her job is and what that means (and the casual fan/non-fan may not even know what that is).  There is a lot of insider talk that goes unexplained assuming the audience knows what they’re talking about, meaning the casual fan may not understand the gravity of the dealings made during the movie.  So what’s left is a fairly interesting but completely fictional story which at least to football fans starts too become predictable during what is the most interesting part… the last 30 minutes of the movie.

But the movie does move along well and it does look good, with production elements are solid as it takes us around the league as ‘Sonny Weaver’ tries to make deals to make his team better.  Some of the best moments of the movie showcase what director Ivan Reitman has done in the past – humor – whether its subtle or overt, there is not enough of it… and too many of the characters are paper thin – with very little much depth, leaving the movie to win or lose on the success of its main characters and main cast, who are good, but not great.

Final word to the producers: just because you make it, doesn’t mean football fans will come.

MORE INFO (possible spoilers):

“Draft Day” 

Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Chadwick Boseman, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Dave Donaldson,Patrick St. Esprit, Chi McBride, Terry Crews, Arian Foster, Timothy Simons, David Ramsey, Wade Williams, Griffin Newman, Sean Combs, Josh Pence, Ellen Burstyn, Brad William Henke, Tom Welling, Sam Elliott, Kevin Dunn, David Dunn, Rosanna Arquette,  Jordan Harris, Zachary Littleton, Chris Berman, Mel Kiper, Jon Gruden, Deion Sanders,  Mike Mayock, Roger Goodell, Rich Eisen, Ray Lewis, Jim Brown, Bernie Kosar, Anthony Rizzo (voice), Aaron Goldhammer (voice)

Director: Ivan Reitman  ["No Strings Attached" (2011), "Six Days Seven Nights" (1998), "Dave" (1993), "Kindergarten Cop" (1990), "Ghostbusters II" (1989), "Twins" (1988), "Ghostbusters" (1984), "Stripes" (1981), "Meatballs" (1979)]

Writer(s): Scott Rothman, Rajiv Joseph

The Plot: At the NFL Draft, general manager Sonny Weaver has the opportunity to rebuild his team when he trades for the number one pick. He must decide what he’s willing to sacrifice on a life-changing day for a few hundred young men with NFL dreams.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

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