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LEATHERHEADS
U.S. Release Date: April 4, 2008
Distributor: Universal
Director: George Clooney
Producer: Grant Heslov, Jeffrey Silver (executive), Casey Silver
Composer: Randy Newman
Cast: George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce
Running Time: 1 hour and 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (brief strong language)

Clooney Forfeits Period Sports Comedy
by Scott Holleran

Leatherheads is Hollywood's latest George Clooney vehicle, supposedly a comedy about a football team in 1925. But Leatherheads is actually an unfocused, overloaded and self-indulgent mess.

Digging right in with the roar of a pre-professional football crowd in the Twenties, Leatherheads quickly piles on gags and hammers every Hollywood cliché to the screen. The plot is derivative. The characters are flat.

Leatherheads also fumbles as a vehicle. Clooney, who is frankly more dynamic offscreen than on, has a certain charm, but he mugs as a rough and tumble player past his prime. Newcomer John Krasinski fits the part of a talented, young Princeton player recruited by Clooney's cad. Renee Zellweger, looking swell in period costumes and ruby red lipstick, fares best as an undercover reporter trying to get a scoop on the Krasinski character.

Except for Jonathan Pryce's cunning sports manager, none of them seems real; they are means to meager ends in an expensive-looking movie that tries too hard. Clooney's lug pines for the dame, who swoons over the stud, whose Army record plays into the jumbled theme that the ends more or less justify the means. If this far from honorable point is intended to be funny in some screwball sense, it isn't.

Neither is an embarrassing and insensitive suicide joke that signals the low point. Clooney and Zellweger, on the lam from cops raiding a speakeasy, where the pair bond over breaking the rules, come upon a man contemplating a leap to suicide. Someone jumps; we cringe.

Leatherheads has several such moments and some of its diversions—a money-grubbing character named Max Steiner comes to mind—border on offensive. Some slick stuff is pretty to look at—nice job on the Chicago and North Western and Illinois Central rail line recreations—but Leatherheads is full of head-scratchers: Clooney's character writes copy for a drunken reporter but can't get a job off the field—a waiter gripes about a 50 percent tip—a climactic fistfight confined to face hits ends without bloodshed.

This is about the time that the Krasinski character announces out of the blue that he's switching teams. Screwball gives way to a love triangle, which gives way to an ethical dilemma, which wobbles before limping back toward screwball—zigzagging from an aimless playbook that has practically nothing to do with football, unless you tend to cheer for government intervention as a crowning achievement, with a fat cat commissioner as some type of hero.

Maybe the point is that playing without rules is fun but impractical. If that's what Leatherheads is meant to represent, it's lost in the unruly thing, shot in an uncinematic style and winking at lying, cheating and taking the path of least resistance. We don't learn the meaning of said football maneuvers, we don't get to know the characters, let alone the team members pictured in Leatherheads' ads, and therefore we don't know enough to care or to laugh. The worst part, as one sports fan says about midway in the movie, is that it's boring.


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