ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

NFL draft day is approaching and Cleveland Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver, Jr. (Kevin Costner), the son of a late Browns legend, is on the hot seat. The owner, coaching staff, players, fans – all are calling for Sonny’s head if he doesn’t make a splash during the off-season. Sonny wants the hotshot college quarterback presumed to be the #1 pick, Coach Vince Penn (Denis Leary) needs a running back, and owner Harvey Molina (Frank Langella) just wants anyone that won’t make his Browns the continued laughingstock of the NFL (as long as there’s a Detroit Lions, that should never be the case).

After making a risky trade with Seattle that essentially gives up their future for the current #1 pick in the draft, Sonny definitely feels the pressure building. With everyone in the Browns organization throwing their draft two cents in, every potential draft pick knocking on Sonny’s door and a little undisclosed romance on the side with team salary cap manager Ali (Jennifer Garner), can Sonny clear his head and make the right choice?

It’s the Cleveland Browns, so if the film concludes with a happy ending, you know this ain’t a documentary.

After starring in baseball oriented films like Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, For Love of the Game and even The Upside of Anger (where he played a retired baseball player), Kevin Costner must’ve felt a film about the behind-the-scenes of an NFL organization would be a good switch. For me, I’d be on board. I’m all for a good sports movie, and one focusing more on the GM/analytics side of the game, such as Moneyball, is even better. Adding acclaimed comedy director/producer Ivan Reitman and an attractive supporting cast to the mix sounds like a good fit.

Well, consider this Moneyball Lite.

There’s certain elements in Draft Day that work. It’s a talented cast and a proven director at the helm who, although not doing a film worth seeing since 1993′s Dave, is by no means a one-hit wonder. Also, Reitman brings a rather dazzling, cleverly edited (courtesy of Sheldon Kahn and Dana E. Glauberman) visual style to this film that has various connecting scenes overlap and blend into each other. However, it’s the script, though, written by Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman, that brings this promising premise down.

Kevin Costner’s 2014 resume hasn’t looked all that great so far. Prior to this film he had the inconsistently toned 3 Days to Kill back in February, and he wasn’t the problem. In fact, Costner and Hailee Steinfeld together were what I enjoyed from that film. Costner doesn’t score a touchdown here (I figured football references would be more appropriate), but he still manages to pull off a serviceable performance of a character (who’s fiction and not based on the actual GM of the Cleveland Browns) that really doesn’t have that much depth to begin with. Much could’ve been drawn on from the idea of Sonny trying to climb out from under his legendary father’s shadow and living up to the same expectations fans and personnel alike had of him, yet they only skim the surface there.

Then again, it’s no wonder he’s having a hard time getting out from under that shadow when draft day finally comes and just a few hours before the event, Sonny asks, “So who should I go with?” Yes, I understand this is a typical Hollywood version of what actually goes on with NFL GMs, so tension and suspense has to be created. I also think it’s safe to say most everyone who knows what a football is understands that GMs have planned who their first pick, with backup picks just in case, quite some time before Roger Goodell takes the stage. It just would’ve been nice to get a central character that doesn’t appear like he couldn’t even run a rocket football league. It also doesn’t make much sense that he has such a hard time trying to figure out who to pick, yet once his team’s on the clock he’s whipping out crazy-good trade deals left and right like he’s the Vince Lombardi of transactions.

Various supporting players are either hit or miss, more due to how poorly fleshed out their characters are than their performance. Jennifer Garner is a miscast in a role that honestly doesn’t really matter as much other than the fact that she’s sleeping with the GM. Okay, she’s actually the team’s salary cap manager, but you sure as hell wouldn’t know with the exception of the few times she chimes in, “Yes, we can make that work.” or “But that’ll put us over the cap space.” Shame that she has to follow her fantastic performance in Dallas Buyers Club – a role that finally convinced me what she was capable of – with such an underwritten character. Denis Leary isn’t terrible here, but he pretty much is playing exactly what it’d be like watching Denis Leary as an NFL head coach, and Frank Langella has the look and vibe of a team owner, but he’s reduced to a role that has him pop up here and there to remind Sonny that he better do good this draft or else.

Where it’s most disappointing is in the supporting roles that could’ve added something to the mix, but wind up coming short. Tom Welling has a small role as the disgruntled starting QB for the Browns who doesn’t like the fact that his GM is flirting with the possibility of drafting another QB. One of the better performances comes from Chadwick Boseman (who starred as Jackie Robinson in last year’s 42) as a prospect who may or may not be the type of player we initially think he is, but he and the other various prospects aren’t given much to do. Call me silly, but they should’ve been a good portion of what this film shined a light on instead of taking detours over to Sonny’s throwaway relationship with Ali and the great Ellen Burstyn wasted in a forced attempt to bring heart to the film.

I wasn’t expecting this to be as great a film as Moneyball, but what made that film so enjoyable was that it kept the focus on Billy Beane trying to right a sinking ship that was the Oakland Athletics and doing it in ways that many other colleagues of his viewed as unconventional. Sure, they had subplots, mainly involving his daughter and his days as a struggling MLB player, but they were utilized in ways that never detracted but highlighted Beane’s character. Draft Day presents a similar scenario within a different professional sport, yet every promising opportunity here in this story is left with unsatisfying results, leading to a contrived ending where everyone, of course, gets what they want.

Draft Day isn’t a horrible film, but it certainly is a disappointing one. While the climactic draft is engaging, as well as Sonny’s interaction with the players, the unnecessary plot elements thrown your way take you out of the experience. What could’ve been an engaging inside look at how NFL GMs attempt to make a team built for the Superbowl while future NFL prospects sell themselves at the Combine ends up being an okay, but overall ho-hum attempt in doing so. I wanna believe that Ivan Reitman still has a good film left in him. It’s been a long while, but I hope he can deliver again. This film, more or less, ends up being somewhat of a bust.

I give Draft Day a C (★★½).

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