Why in the world would you get rid of a number one pick in the NFL Draft?
In the highly dubious Draft Day, a Seattle Seahawks exec quickly parts with the pick, delivering it into the lap of Cleveland Browns GM Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner). While nabbing that cherished pick in a draft with a consensus first choice athlete saves his job, Weaver then spends the precious few hours right before the draft second-guessing the transaction, basically thinking about punting the asset he just miraculously landed.
In real life, having the first overall pick is a little boring, since you have no competition and pretty much everyone can guess who you might select. In Ivan Reitman's new film, they liven it up by depicting a scenario where Indiana Jones has found the Holy Grail and is now haggling with buyers over Ebay.
Weaver is moments away from his pink slip before he makes the deal, landing the chance to develop the weirdly too-old-looking Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). Callahan is a quarterback with a golden arm and a typically dopey demeanor, spouting predictable athlete rhetoric that bores Weaver. The audience knows in its heart that the Zabka-esque Callahan has too little charisma to be Weaver's pick, and the rest of the film is a sluggish journey towards the inevitable, desperately trying to find an excuse for Weaver to ignore a can't-miss prospect. You'd think the Cleveland scouts would bring something up, but once the deal for the pick is made (on the morning of draft day!), they seem wholly unprepared. In a world where every other sports fanatic has a blog detailing the details of every players' game, you'd think the full profile of the number one pick would be fresh in everyone's minds.
Because Draft Day was a Black List script, the cast is loaded with overqualified actors. Some are good to great: Ellen Burstyn brings dignity to the part of Weaver's mother, a lioness who won't back down from a fight. Denis Leary's Coach Penn is, in Leary fashion, a fiery big mouth, uncomfortably sanitized for the rating but believably nuclear. And Frank Langella brings dimension to the part of a tough but fair owner; his Harvey Molina comes across as a man with deep pockets and a deep allegiance to the Browns not as an owner, but a fan. His begging of Weaver to make a “splash” on draft day is kept vague to seem much like the exasperated fan who doesn't want to hear about “rebuilding” and just wants to win now as if it were a birthright.
Costner, however, ends up in every scene. He's a star, and you're drawn to him because he seems smarter than everyone in the room. When it doesn't seem like he's the most bright amongst sniping colleagues, you root for him to prove them wrong, not because you like him, but because you can't imagine anyone else around him being smarter. Rooting for Costner is like rooting for a mega-corporation: you hope he's not involved with anything unsavory, and you're immediately worn down by his hearty appropriation of aw-shucks sensuality and down-home principles.
The film moves at a slow pace, slower than you'd imagine actual an draft day is, one filled with phone calls and internet searches and video analysis. But it moves at Costner's pace: he's one of the very last stars to seem like when he's smiling at the camera, he's smiling at you.
It doesn't seem certain he's the best fit for this role however, a bit too pancake where he should be waffle. In the very first scene, his girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner) informs him that she's pregnant. His voice congratulates her, but his body language says, “Oh great.” Later, he fights with his mother about taking five minutes to spread his late father's ashes onto an unoccupied field. Weaver's a prick of a character: why does he have an inkling that Callahan isn't worth the pick because he doesn't have any friends when all Weaver does is burn bridges and wait for them to be rebuilt?
Draft Day skimps on the real life details of the draft in order to present a slightly more fantastical tale about what happens during the NFL's annual ritual. So you have to forgive the film if characters who have followed the sport their own lives explain to each other who Ryan Leaf really is. A certain sort of audience-friendliness goes a long way. It's when the departures from reality become vividly clear that you have to lose allegiance with the film. The final act, and the only portion of the film not slackly directed, launches us right into the draft itself, where Weaver basically turns into Dr. Mabuse and starts manipulating all that surrounds him. It's as if the movie just plugged in a Game Genie, and now Weaver is basically bullet-proof in his wheeling and dealing (most of which would not have been sanctioned by the league).
Lively as it may be, it can't recant the previous hour of nonsense, depicting the most low-energy, apathetic draft in history. Even if Weaver held onto the seventh pick he must package with other assets to get the #1, he'd be taking calls all day from eager and interested parties. Instead, he's Kevin Costner, comfortable in his own skin, lollygagging through a day where he treats the most valuable item in all of sports like it's a tchotchke. When the film hits the ground, it's like they're shooting from an eternally-moving golf cart. Ultimately, it's a sports film for those who thought Moneyball “moved too fast for my liking.”