Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 54 min.
Release Date: April 4th, 2008 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: George Clooney Actors: George Clooney, John Krasinski, Renee Zellweger, Stephen Root, Jack Thompson, Jonathan Pryce, Heather Goldenhersh
irector George Clooney’s latest homage to the Golden Age of movies brushes ever so closely at times to the classic screwball comedies of the ‘30s and ‘40s – but falls short in both carefree laughs and whimsical romance. No one else bothers to try though, so Clooney’s efforts are much appreciated. Plus, the result is a fairly unique romantic sports comedy – itself a specific blend of genres often neglected.
With the early days of professional football as a backdrop, a scandal, a romance, and a sport all begin to take shape. Desperate to legitimize the pastime he so loves, reckless Dodge Connelly (George Clooney) hatches a plan to bring college football superstar and American war hero Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford (John Krasinski) to his team of Duluth Bulldogs – as well as to the crowd of thousands that will follow. Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune assigns relentless reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) to uncover the truth behind the Bullet’s wartime accomplishments, an an attempt to bring down his charade of heroism. Things get even more complicated when both Dodge and Carter fall for Lexie – forcing the game of football to take a backseat to the game of love.
Clooney has all but nailed the performance of the male lead in a classic screwball comedy setup. However, his supporters and the too-serious dilemmas at hand detract from the presentation’s overall mood. Clooney’s wide-eyed, smooth-talking Dodge charms with his on-screen presence and go-getter charisma, but John Krasinski’s Carter infrequently provides a worthy opponent. The prize, Renee Zellweger’s Lexie, tries too hard to be the fast-talking, hard-edged businesswoman (a la “His Girl Friday”), only to never become one worth winning. Her chemistry with Clooney is regularly hit-or-miss. The minor characters provide a laugh or two but barely stand out, save for the always entertaining and mildly villainous performance from Jonathan Pryce.
Though Clooney may not be able to perfect the vibe of the mostly forgotten subgenre, he does do an excellent job in recreating the times. A jazzy, swinging score from Randy Newman complements and humorizes period events like prohibition raids, as well as the bar-room fights and on-field rivalries. The upbeat, piano-heavy tunes are a definite highlight, truly working effectively to accent the lighthearted atmosphere. Stock footage, sepia tones, and steady pans across still frames (in the traditional documentary style) accentuate the feeling of watching a piece of history, while the costumes and set designs appear meticulously crafted.
Chronicling the advancement in professional football from the 1920s, “Leatherheads” attempts to reimagine a ‘30s diversion in comedy zaniness – but with only partial success (not unlike 2003’s “Intolerable Cruelty,” which also starred Clooney). The dialogue is inventive and amusingly brusque, but oftentimes the conversations are too abrupt. Falling back on waggish expressions and lengthy fistfights, Clooney’s nod to cleaner, simpler, old-fashioned humor has as many stale moments as engaging ones. Like “The Good German” before it, “Leatherheads” aims for a filmmaking style long since discontinued – and though it’s not fully realized, it’s nonetheless refreshing to see someone still remembering it.
– The Massie Twins