Leatherheads - Cinema Review

Currently tanking at the U.K box office and in the process of completing a swallow dive into a pool only half full (or is that half empty?) in the U.S comes George Clooney’s latest star vehicle and third directorial offering, Leatherheads.

The film follows Jimmy ‘Dodge’ Connelly (Clooney) and his attempts to promote the ailing game of Professional Football (American Football to us Brits) by signing college phenomenon Carter ‘The Bullet’ Rutherford (John Krasinski) to his backwater team of misfiring misfits. In between these two plucky heroes comes Renee Zellweger’s impossibly named reporter Lexie Littleton, intent on exposing the un-truth behind a war story Rutherford has used to build his reputation.

As a director Clooney has shown real talent, particularly with Good Night and Good Luck, and there are flashes of his skill here. A decent pace is maintained throughout and some fantastic still camera shots really add to the humour rather than distracting from it. It is an odd choice for Clooney who has recently been shown to be moving away from the rom-com genre, especially in terms of direction (his first film was Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, the biography of game show host cum ‘spy’ Chuck Barris). However, he just about makes all the parts stick and despite some reservations at times the love triangle actually adds to the Pro Football angle of the film.

Clooney is still at his best and most charming as an actor however and here he pitches Dodge somewhere in between the nice-but-dim Everett of O’ Brother Where Art Thou and the dangerously intelligent charm of Out Of Sight’s Jack Foley. It is obviously a winning combination and the development of Clooney’s stock character continues with another likeable and charming outing. As the romantic interest Zellweger does little more than go through the motions despite an attempt to promote her as a burgeoning 20’s power-woman which is hopelessly undermined come the film’s conclusion. At times she manages to evoke memories of the frumpiness of Bridget Jones, hardly needed in the make-up of confident, progressive, Lexie.

As a whole Clooney’s film (and have no doubt, this is Clooney’s film) has a decent tale to tell, both in terms of the rom-com and sporting elements. In combining the two arch’s however, the film risks revealing that it has little confidence in either thread and leaves itself open to the idea that the love triangle is only there to ensure non-Americans are engaged throughout. The result is a film that, despite its pace, at times feels overlong and drawn-out. The football plot bears most of the brunt at times feeling under-written; how for example, does Dodge know Jonathan Pryce’s slimy businessman and what is their mysterious and possibly conflicting history?

Leatherheads does, eventually, drag itself through competing stories to emerge a decent rom-com, a so-so sports story and a genuinely funny comedy. The talents of Clooney and Zellweger are, in the end, shining too bright at the moment to be dimmed by a story guilty of being far too over-ambitious for its own good. It’s telling that despite its best attempts at being a universal success the film is still only just putting up the numbers on both sides of the pond raising the age old question; what better, a four star film with little box office, or a shallow three star popcorn muncher which (just) recoups its own budget?

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