George Clooney's football origin comedy starts strong but loses steam before reaching the end zone.
There has been much made of the George Clooney/Cary Grant comparisons of late. After all, at this point Clooney has reigned the Hollywood A-List for more than a decade. He's got the looks (even at 46 younger women still swoon over him), he's well-liked (nary a negative word is ever said about the man) and he's smart enough to play to his strengths both as a director and actor.
Leatherheads seems well-suited to both sides of Clooney's talents and personality. The story takes place in the early days of pro football when the sport was still a very distant second to college football and teams were populated by men with day jobs. Attendance was middling at best and the league was on the verge of collapse.
As the story here goes, Clooney's aptly named Jimmy "Dodge" Connelly gets the idea of recruiting college football's most popular player, Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), to play a few games for the pros. The stunt is a runaway success, but wouldn't you know it that a dame had to get in the way of everything. Renee Zellweger (talking out of the side of her mouth for the majority of the movie) plays Lexie Littleton, a spitfire journalist who's been assigned a story on Rutherford about his on-field prowess as well as his somewhat shaky past legend as a hero of The Great War.
Predictably, both Connelly and Rutherford fall for the leggy lady in red as they try to launch pro football and she struggles with the morality of potentially disgracing an American sports hero.
Leatherheads is a lighthearted sports comedy in the tradition of Bull Durham, Slap Shot and, to a lesser extent, Major League. It's a little slap-sticky but overall it sticks to a straight ahead storyline about the rife comedic grounds of pro football's ugly origin.
Clooney is perfectly suited to the character of Dodge, doing a slight variation on parts he's already played in O Brother, Where Art Thou, Intolerable Cruelty and the Ocean movies. John Krasinski shows another side of his wise-cracking office alter-ego Jim exhibiting a little more range and playing opposite big screen big leaguers Clooney and Zellweger without missing a beat.
Zellweger looks and acts the part of a tough '20s girl but still, like most of her recent work, I found her a bit grinding at times. She's starting to look a little strange (perhaps an overdose of botox) and her sour lemon face just isn't as cutesy as it used to be.
Where Leatherheads goes from guffaw to thuds is primarily in its length and struggle with pacing issues. It starts strong, introducing a series of amusing characters with nice chemistry, from the leads on through to the supporting parts. It ends relatively strong as well, but that middle section wears thin and carries Leatherheads to an almost two-hour running time that would have greatly benefitted from at least a 20-minute trim.
For Clooney the director, this is his first real misstep and it doesn't stray that far from being a success. This is the largest role Clooney has played in one of his directorial efforts and he nearly pulls it off. If only he could have let some of his babies go in the edit room Leatherheads still might have succeeded as the classic sports comedy it was threatening to be. It's not terrible by any means, just uneven and largely forgettable.