U.S. Release Date: August 25, 2006
Distributor: Buena Vista
Composer: Mark Isham
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks
Running Time: 1 hour and 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (sports and some mild language)

Football Movie Scores in the End Zone
by Scott Holleran

Apparently, the story of Vince Papale, Walt Disney Pictures' Invincible, is true and it is another uplifting sports movie with the right ingredients and attention to period detail. Heavy aluminum cans of Pepsi, hard rock, multi-colored stripe tube socks, pulled all the way up the calf—director Ericson Core nails the Seventies, down to the National Football League's Bicentennial patch.

It was 1976, America's 200th anniversary. The Philadelphia Eagles—representing the city where America was created—were suffering loss after humiliating loss. The club's fans were among the NFL's worst. They routinely ridiculed the lousy team. They tossed snowballs at Santa Claus. They were hard and bitter, reflecting the city, which was plagued by union strikes, a weak economy and crime.

Invincible introduces several regular guys from Max's, where Papale (Mark Wahlberg) tends bar and finds a loose confederation of worker types with whom to play tackle football in the park. Boston's former Marky Mark is in fine form as the blue collar bartender and substitute teacher. When public school budgets are cut, he loses a portion of his income and, irked by his playing ball instead of paying bills, his wife ditches him.

She also leaves a note declaring that he's a loser. The guys—including union types, heavy drinkers and an upbeat pal who lost his brother in the Vietnam War—stand by him in the face of their own troubles and playing football gives them something to do. Vince Papale hangs on to wifey's handwritten kiss-off as evidence in a pending trial of self-incrimination.

That's where the pro ball comes in, with Greg Kinnear as the good-looking young college coach recruited as the Eagles' head coach Dick Vermeil. With a bad wig and arched eyebrows, Kinnear struggles here and there, but he delivers another solid performance as the new coach who aims to win hardcore Philly's allegiance by enlisting one of its own to play ball.

Will Vince Papale try out for the squad? Will he make it? Will he fumble? Stocked with a kind old pop, a love interest, Coach's supportive wife, crusty Max, bruised buddies and one tough center, the answers are relatively easy but no less engaging in this fairly straightforward dramatization of man's self-improvement through sports.

The story is boosted by an unspoken bond between the player brought on for good public relations—a legitimate consideration in a business based on attendance—and the coach brought on to rescue a floundering team. If Papale is too old to sustain a career in pro football, Vermeil is too young to coach and that they each find their way through an interesting interdependence is the movie's most compelling aspect.

Director Core uses the standard sports movie strategy of completely distorting the game in action with dizzying 360 roundabout shots and hyper-realistic distractions. The rock soundtrack is often overwhelming. It's questionable whether blue collar New York babes were blasting Jackson Browne's "These Days" in South Philly in 1976. Papale's romance is less believable than the notion that his goal to play on the Eagles was the key to reclaiming his self-esteem.

Yet, with an ending that sneaks up and spikes the ball, recalling that other favorite movie about an ordinary guy taking a shot at pigskin perfection—the superior RudyInvincible scores at least a clean, swift field goal right up the middle.

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