Release Date:  August 25, 2006
Rating:  PG (for some rough sports action, mild language)
Genre:  Sports, Drama, Biopic
Run Time:  104 min.
Director:  Ericson Core
Actors:  Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Conway, Michael Rispoli, Michael Kelly, Stink Fisher, Lola Glaudini

Confession time: While I certainly love a sappy romantic comedy like the majority of women, I’ve always had a soft spot for sports movies. Sure, the storylines often fall prey to every cliché in the book, and the good guys usually beat the odds and score the final run, touchdown, goal, you name it, in the final seconds of the game – even if the other team was far more skilled. But yet there’s something about the underdog having a moment of glory that’s exciting. And ultimately, it leaves you with the feeling that maybe you can accomplish anything, too.

But before one assumes that “Invincible” follows the same, predictable course I referenced above, it doesn’t. Instead, the movie is the true story (with a few creative liberties taken, of course) of the rather unlikely NFL career of Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg).

Set in a rough, working-class South Philly neighborhood, Papale doesn’t have much going for him in the beginning. He’s just been laid off from his substitute teaching position and has to pick up more hours as a bartender. His beautiful wife, Sharon, (Lola Glaudini) can’t stand being poor anymore, so she leaves him and takes the already-limited contents of their apartment with her. And if that wasn’t bad enough, his only escape, his favorite football team, the Philadelphia Eagles, can’t seem to win a game. But as it turns out, their losses are eventually his gain when the organization hires former UCLA football coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear).

To boost the morale of the city and hopefully the struggling team itself, Vermeil holds an open tryout for prospective Eagles players. After the incessant pestering of his longtime pals, Papale eventually decides to give it his best shot, even though his father warned him that “men can only take so much failure.” Gee, thanks Dad!

While most of those auditioning for the team provide the film’s comic relief as they’re downright laughable, Vermeil spots a diamond in the rough, even though Papale doesn’t have much experience aside from his weekly mud-ball games in a parking lot with his drinking buddies. But despite his flawed resumé, Vermeil sees something valuable under the surface, someone who plays with his heart. And that’s exactly what he’s looking for, even if his colleagues don’t agree with his decision.

Now without giving away too many more plot details, the rest of the movie documents the new hometown hero’s ascent from bartender to bonafide NFL player (with a romantic subplot in the mix, too) in a way that’s touching and realistic because he endures plenty of growing pains in the process. With an understated yet emotionally convincing performance that has the audience rooting for him all along, (not to mention the muscular physique he’d need to succeed), Wahlberg was a great choice for the lead role. In fact, it makes you wonder if he drew from his own semi-rocky career transition from Calvin Klein model, to critically panned singer of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, to acclaimed actor, to get the nuances of his character just right.

The casting of Kinnear, all tan, spunky and sporting blonde highlights, was also a good move for Vermeil’s role as the coach who hopes to turn the team’s less-than-stellar win/loss ratio around. All throughout the movie, you see the obvious parallels between Papalle and Vermeil, even as different as their backgrounds are, which is another fine example of how the storytelling and human-interest story element, rather than just focus on the sport itself, ultimately steal the show in “Invincible.”
 
AUDIENCE:  Older children and up

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Vince works as a bartender, so several scenes take place at the local Philly tavern, where he and his friends get together to talk football, watch TV and drink beer after work.
  • Language/Profanity:  A couple of very mild profanities, none of a religious nature.
  • Sex/Nudity:  It’s implied that Vince and his girlfriend Janet, who later becomes his wife, have sex. But nothing is shown, aside from a passionate kiss.
  • Violence:  None that isn’t of the football-playing variety. But they do tend to keep the camera close to the action, so prepare for what sound like some bone-crunching hard hits (especially for the less-experienced Vince).