Denis Leary gets in Kevin Costner's face in "Draft Day." Credit: Dale Robinette
'Draft Day' Director: Ivan Reitman Stars: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner Rating: PG-13 3 (out of 5) Globes
The Kevin Costner Comeback Machine has had a bumpy ride, if not quite as hectic as the one belonging to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Costner was once an A-list titan felled by hubris, namely the insistence that he was a movie hero of towering gravitas. In truth he’s a scene-stealing supporting player and wry romantic-comedy lead. He’s been forced to do both over the last decade, and it’s gone well enough to yield an autumnal re-storming of the front. He should have picked a more assured return than the rickety “3 Days to Kill,” which couldn’t figure out of it was a dark comedy, an action film or a family drama and left its star in the lurch.
“Draft Day” is more his speed, and not just because sports are truly his thing. (That is to say the best baseball movie ever is “Bull Durham,” and certainly not “Field of Dreams.”) It’s a low-key dramedy about a high-test day, in which his Sonny Weaver Jr., the much-doubted GM of the Cleveland Browns, has to get his groove back. The flailing footballers need a big get to pull them out of a valley, and Sonny has struck a probably shortsighted deal for first pick. But will he pick the possibly over-hyped kid whose agent is played by P. Diddy? (Sean Combs is, sadly, not given nearly enough scenery to chew on.) Or will it be the underdog (Chadwick Boseman) who may have the actual goods?
No wonder Sonny likes him: He’s an underdog too. “Draft Day” goes well out of its way to pile on its hero, whose father has just died, who is undermined by everyone, including his coach (Denis Leary, underused but well-used when used), who has just discovered he knocked up the staffer (Jennifer Garner) he’s clandestinely banging. In fact, the film might as well be about Costner. It’s almost perfect that “3 Days to Kill” was such a wash; it adds to how much both Sonny and he have on the line for the third act.
Luckily, “Draft Day” is one of those films that seems lackadaisical and pleasant, with familiar gags involving bumbling interns, an instantly abandoned exploration of gender politics and a generally too shaggy plot — until it suddenly whips out a killer ending. The last half hour kicks up several gears so that Sonny/Costner can suddenly bust out their chops. Suddenly we’re reminded of the Costner of old: not the one who thought of himself as a savior in bloated adventures and epics, but the cocksure badass of his early comedies, like "Bull Durham" (though "Draft Day" is nowhere near as good) — the type of role that should have filled out his whole career. May the world-weariness that now comes naturally to Costner not bog down what could be a thrilling third act to his career.
A final side note about its filmmaker: Director Ivan Reitman has never been a great stylist, or close to it, though “Ghostbusters” is a model of thoughtful comic direction, using camerawork to enhance the gags and even create ones of its own. To do something with a story that finds people regularly calling all over the country, Reitman often plays with split-screens that find actors traversing from one side through another frame back into their own frame on the other side. (It’s like a more laid-back version of what Ang Lee did with “Hulk.”) But when things finally come to a head, he’s exacting and precise, right where he needs to be at all times. This isn’t stellar filmmaking, but it is the kind that’s easy to underrate because it is, even at its flashiest, invisible. Who knew the guy who made "Junior" and "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" (and "Stripes") had it in him?