RIORI Vol. 2, Installment 20: George Clooney’s “Leatherheads” (2008)


The Players…

George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski and Jonathan Pryce.

The Story…

Professional football back in the 20s was just finding its feet. Back then, despite its small fan base, pro ball was more of a novelty than anything. Most folks smirked; no way that guys would ever be paid to play ball, not with the competition of college football riding so high. But it looks like the fans demand pro football…all twelve of them.

So spunky sports reporter Roxie has this nose for news, and to grab a scoop on the possibility of a real American pro football league sounds delicious. She seeks out Dodge, a too-old-to-play rapscallion about the potential future of football as proper spectator sport.

Roxie fast learns she should’ve double-checked her resources.

The Rant…

Two things:

  1. Sorry I’ve been away from so long. I just put in 21 days in a row at work (which must violate the Constitution is some way, shape or form) and sleep was a more precious commodity than blog upkeep. Besides, I had no damn time to watch any new films, so get off me.
  2. I’ve been derelict in my duties. I’ve been comparing the trade and this blog looks very primitive. I wish I knew more about customizing on WordPress but I’m too damned busy elsewhere (life, work, kid, whatever comes after lifeworkkid) to make these posts look snappy. A web pal of mine says it’s all about the content, but what good is the content if its packaging is lame? I could use some suggestions and input into making RIORI more shiny.

Back to movies…

This is not my first comedy I’ve covered. It is however the screwiest comedy I’ve ever covered. Leatherheads is a comedy in the most earthy way: madcap. No redeeming dramatic factors backing it up. Sure, we have he classic hero-villain-intermediary triad working, but it’s all very squishy. More on that later, but now it’s time for the traditional intro:

I’ve never been a football fan. I know it sounds very not ‘Mericun to not be into football (and not be “accused” of being gay for it) in these our United States. Sorry. The closest I ever got into football was in college cheering on the Syracuse Orangemen every Saturday from the end zone as a member of the marching band. And here’s something for you: it’s hard to get behind college football on the idiot box when you get prime seats gratis for four years where the ref can actually hear your protests about fouls. Beyond that catbird seat, I could give two sh*ts about football.

That is not to say that I’m not interested in the history of the game. Football’s the biggest commodity in pro sports as far as I understand. Think about how much Super Bowl ad spots go for and you get what I’m saying. Its influence is huge, and has weaved endless threads into our national conscious that can never be undone.

Like I said, I don’t really like football, but I sure as hell can’t deny it. Something as big as pro football had to start somewhere. The acorn and the oak and alla dat. I‘d like to imagine the history of the pro game began with a bunch of hardscrabble youths took to warping British rugby into the game as we know it today. Maybe it was just a bunch of guys (let’s face it, it had to be guys. Not men, but guys) who liked getting down and dirty and playing in the mud. Or perhaps it was just some knuckleheads who plum enjoyed smashing into things.

I think the last part is the closest analog to the truth as far as Leatherheads goes…

Dodge Connelly (Clooney) is washed up. Or at least very close to the shoreline. He could have dedicated his life after the Great War to some noble effort like curing some disease or erecting mighty buildings. Nope. Instead he opted for punting the pigskin in the haphazard world of fledgling professional football. He’s past his prime, on the far side of forty and has absolutely no clue how to contribute to society in a meaningful fashion. And besides, it’s not as if pro football has any hope of being a big deal after all, not with college ball being so popular, and those kids are amateurs.

Dodge is the captain of the Duluth Bulldogs, a team so low on the tier they can barely afford a pot to piss in. While there’s no real money to be made in pro ball, Dodge and his cohorts—ahem, teammates—work with what they have (even if it’s only one ball) and just try to have fun, not giving a damn. But Dodge, who let’s face it, has very little good years left in him (not as if there were a lot in the first place), is stubborn. He figures with the right marketing, pro ball could not only become a legitimate enterprise but also a profitable one. He figures all he needs is the right kind of player. Someone that crowds could rally around, want to see him shine on the field. A football star. That’s the ticket. Don’t you know Dodge has the perfect player in mind.

Carter Rutherford (Krasinksi) is a war hero, athlete, scholar and all around the envy of everyone. He’s handsome, modest, a real Boy Scout and before his college years had concluded, was capable of whipping the crowds into a fomenting frenzy playing college ball. How about football as a career? Please. Carter has more that tossing around the old pigskin lined up for his future. Well, not if Dodge has anything to say about it. He’s sure he found his golden boy. Now how to convince him to join the Bulldogs in hopes to make pro football legit?

Yet is Carter’s rep as shiny as it seems? Can he really be America’s son? Dodge certainly thinks so, but not spunky news reporter Lexie Littleton (Zellweger). She smells a rat. There’s something fishy about Carter’s war story, and he may not be the golden boy the public esteems. No matter to Dodge. Carter’s his man, warts and all. But the dauntless reporter wants the truth, for is Carter too good to be true?

What to do? What to do? Hell, let’s just work it out on the field…

I liked this one. I’m not one for screwball comedies, and Leatherheads came perilously close to that, but on the whole it was a witty little film. It wasn’t outright funny, but always on the cusp of going off the tracks. Whether or not this was director Clooney’s intentions I have no idea. But I did like this one.

Leatherheads is Clooney’s third film he directed, and this time it feels like he tried to apply a few things he learned from the Coen Brothers (down to hiring some of the same actors). It’s got that left-of-center feel like most Coen comedies possess, and Clooney does well with the fast talking, carnival barker type delivery and dialogue he affected in their movies. Even the editing seems Coen-ish. Hard to figure if this was a Clooney project alone or a wink and a nod to the Brothers themselves. Either way it doesn’t matter. Leatherheads moves swiftly along with its story with highly quotable, snappy dialogue, sight gags, hammy acting and borderline screwball antics. Couldn’t help but smile during this movie.

However not all is fair in love, football and acting. Again, I don’t know if Clooney was shooting for this, but the leads feel like they’re adhering to stereotypes on purpose. For instance, Zellweger has the right attitude as the spitfire His Girl Friday. Too right an attitude. Clooney is the loveable ruffian, and Krasinski with the most sincere face. These are archetypes in cinema, inescapable no matter how you dress them up. But there’s no real flair to any of these characters. Nothing that would make them stand out in a police line up for committing anything remarkable. There needed to be a little more meat on the bones for me to really embrace the acting, which was serviceable but like I said, needed more oomph.

One thing this movie does well is illustrate the hardscrabble life pro football had, all low rent and humble, well, well before the multi-billion dollar industry it is today. And speaking of dollars, I uncovered a possible argument why Leatherheads didn’t score many points (ha!) at the multiplex. In an interview Clooney said that he made this movie with a specific age bracket in mind, the oh so lucrative 50 to 80 year-old demographic.

*screeching of tires*

What the what? That kind of marketing would get you killed in war! Deliberating aiming beyond the apocryphal 25 to 40 year old demo is akin to Hollywood budgetary suicide! Did they even have movies fifty years ago? What in the name of Heisman was Clooney thinking? A surefire way to meet The Standard is to lose money on an earnest project. Clooney succeeded, but what guts. In a world of youth and glam overly revered in Hollywood that to make a film with grandpa in mind is so crazy that it almost worked.

Admittedly Leatherheads tried a bit too had to be old-timey, right down to the font used for the opening credits. There’s a certain Marx Brothers quality to the film, and that also is an acquired taste (one I have) for an older audience. Like I said, there’s an underlying madcap tone to the whole picture, humor steeped in pop culture from many moons ago. Leatherheads is not a laugh out loud comedy. Sure, it’s funny, but it goes for the element of “smart” funny that values wit over fart jokes. It’s all a very slick affair.

Perhaps that senior citizen factor failed because it alienated a good percentage of moviegoers. Who really wants to see gutbucket football in action from three generations ago, besides Gramps, me and football enthusiasts? Good question. In the long run it doesn’t really matter, because a good movie is a good movie. Leatherheads is not a great movie, and can be a bit creaky at times, but I liked it. A solid okay would be the best way to describe it.

So what have we learned?

Working 21 days in row sucks and keeps me away from movies and RIORI (as well as food, drink, sleep, sex and sanity), my blog needs a new coat of paint and Leatherheads was a solid, yet mediocre film with a few highlights.

Overall it’s good to be back. Sorry I was away for so long. I left kisses on the pillow.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Leatherheads may have an acquired taste, but it won’t be a bitter one (insert clever football analogy here, ‘cause I can’t think of one. Not a fan, remember?).

Stray Observations…

  • The filmmakers neglected the actual gridiron pattern on the field that was standard for football back in the day. Someone was asleep at the wheel.
  • “You went to college?” “Colleges.”
  • Hey! It’s Vinnie Delpino, Doog!
  • “I didn’t come over here to be insulted.” “There where do you usually go?”
  • I loved the set pieces and costumes. Someone sure didn’t skimp in the wardrobe department.
  • “I don’t drink.” “You will.”
  • I didn’t give much of a shout out to Jonathan Pryce’s performance as promoter CC Frazier. He’s very dry and sullen. I like that in a classic antagonist.
  • “There’s always baseball.”

Next Installment…

Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow. Kinda says it all, doesn’t it?


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