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True Football Fans Will Want to Slide Draft Day Down Their Boards

  • Jeffrey Huston Contributing Writer
  • 2014 11 Apr
True Football Fans Will Want to Slide <i>Draft Day</i> Down Their Boards

DVD Release Date: September 2, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: April 11, 2014
Rating: PG-13 (for strong language and sexual references. NOTE: this film originally received an R rating. It won a PG-13 on appeal, with no edits made)
Genre: Sports drama
Run Time: 100 min
Directors: Ivan Reitman
Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Tom Welling, Terry Crews, Sam Elliot, Ellen Burstyn, Rosanna Arquette, Chi McBride

The more you love the NFL, the more Draft Day will likely drive you up a wall. This isn't just the NFL Draft for dummies; it’s the NFL Draft by dummies.

Draft Day, which takes place over the first day of the annual NFL Draft, follows the new General Manager (GM) for the Cleveland Browns, Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner, 3 Days To Kill). The Browns are perennial losers in serious need of rebuilding, and a good draft can make or break those hopes. In a sports organization, a GM is the guy who calls the shots regarding personnel. He’s the one who hires and fires, from the head coach right on down to the very last player and everyone in-between. Though he consults key people within that hierarchy, every decision is ultimately his to make.

In the real world, Weaver would be the worst GM in all of pro sports. Anyone who's played armchair GM over the years (like I have) will be flabbergasted not only by the idiotic decisions Weaver makes but for how completely and utterly unprepared he is to make them. It all starts with mortgaging his team's entire future in a trade to get the #1 pick in the draft from the Seattle Seahawks (talk about unrealistic – the Seahawks are the best team in football, not the worst, but we can let that one slide). What Weaver gives up to move from #7 overall to #1 is ridiculous on its face, but then here’s the real kicker: Weaver's not exactly sure who he's going to draft with that pick! And it's the day of the draft!

This premise is an affront to the basic logic of GM-ing 101. When you give up what Weaver gives up to get that #1, you as a GM know – beyond all shadow of a doubt – who you're going to draft. You make the move because you know. You've decided before you even pick up the phone to propose the trade. But not here, oh no, because the film – in the limited structure its set up for itself - needs dramatic stakes, and it's so anxious to contrive some that it makes an absolute fool out of its hero. And that's just the beginning.

I won't delineate the long list of stupidity on display by Weaver and his entire staff, but suffice it to say it's a mockery of how seriously GMs and coaches take their jobs – not just on draft day, but on every day leading up to it. For example, when Weaver waffles on the presumed top choice (QB Bo Callahan), he asks his staff to do research on that player, and a few others – as if he/they wouldn't have already done that research to exhaustive detail over the past four months leading up to the draft! That's their JOB! Heck, it's their passion! Guys like these are Personnel Geeks! But in this movie, they haven't done the research. Even on draft day, the coaches are spending their time online reading about off-field Callahan gossip and making bets on how much of a "player" he is with the ladies. Really?!

This is a far cry from an insider's look at how an NFL front office works, playing more like a script from writers who seem to have quickly skimmed some Wikipedia pages about the topic and then just made it up from there. As Weaver and his staff do their research, they ask each other questions that a real NFL front office team would already know the answers to. These elementary-level, exposition-heavy conversations were written for an audience of extreme novices, not actual fans. I can appreciate wanting to reach a wider audience, but not at the expense of insulting the core fan base. I'm stunned this was actually produced in partnership with the NFL.

As if all that isn't bad enough, the melodramatic domestic subplots emphasize just how desperate (and lazy) this whole endeavor is. Even though this is the defining moment of Weaver's professional career, there's way too much time spent on Weaver's family issues – from living under the shadow of his recently departed father (a legendary Browns coach), to his mother's hysterical insistence that they spread his dad's ashes on that day, to dealing with the news that his girlfriend (who's young enough to be his daughter, and also happens to be an employee) is pregnant with his child. Too much daddy issues and mommy issues and dating issues being dealt with at a time Weaver should be solely focused on his job's most important day of the year.

The cast is almost universally bland and stilted, but the script does them no favors. If anything, it actively works against their talents, hanging like an albatross around every person, relationship, conflict, and line delivery. Characters are thinly drawn in broad strokes, giving actors little meat or motivation to do much more than go through the motions scripted for them. In the NFL, a first draft is a good thing. With a script, a first draft is a bad thing. This script feels like a first draft.

Along with Costner's charm and intelligence being sorely undercut, so are Jennifer Garner’s (Dallas Buyers Club) as she fills the perfunctory role of romantic interest for a man nearly two decades her senior. Denis Leary (The Amazing Spider-Man) is the only one who adds a spark and voice of reason as the Browns' head coach, but unfortunately his accurate critiques of Weaver's recklessness make him the antagonist because he's not trusting the protagonist's "gut."

If you'd like to see the improbable success of the most flat-footed and ill-prepared staff in the history of sports, then Draft Day surely fits that bill. Yes, I'll grant that Weaver's final strategic move is a clever one, but given how it comes after a day-long litany of profound miscalculations it's ultimately nothing more than wish fulfillment. This is how draft day works only in the movies. In real life, this would've been an unmitigated disaster. And in a real theater, that's exactly what this movie is.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Alcoholic beverages are casually consumed.
  • Language/Profanity:  Eight uses of the S-word. 10 uses of the Lord’s name in vain. Three A-words. One F-word. Three uses of sexually crude slang.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Coaches joke about and place bets on how many "chicks" a draft pick has "banged"; other similar conversations about sexual activity. The lead love interest is pregnant out of wedlock. Some kissing and embracing. A couple of crude sexual metaphor jokes.
  • Violence/Other: None.

Publication date: April 11, 2014