Directed By: George Clooney
Starring: George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Root
Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language.
Parental Notes: There’s some kissing, some swearing, and that’s about it. Unless you don’t want your kids hearing some salty language and seeing some fistfights played largely for laughs, this is probably a safe bet.
The main action of “Leatherheads” opens with a joke involving a cow and a football which should set to rest any doubts folks in the audience might have as to Clooney’s ability to act, direct, and maintain his comic timing all at once. The man is a apparently talented multitasker, and “Leatherheads” is a charming picture which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Sure, if you look below the surface there’s some criticism of one or two tendencies in American culture, but there’s also a great deal of affection for old Hollywood tropes and a day out watching (or better yet, playing) a game of football.
The film is set in 1925: professional football is struggling to get off the ground, the real aficionados of the game pay attention to college ball, and it’s widely assumed at after school, football heroes have to get a real job because pro ball is a joke. Sure, the pros don’t have much in the way of rules, and play for the fun of it, but the small group of fans who love the down and dirty style aren’t enough to pay for the teams.
Dodge Connelley (George Clooney, “Michael Clayton”), captain of the Duluth Bulldogs, is in a bind: his team’s last ball has been stolen, they’ve managed to lose their sponsor, and the team has temporarily folded. Dodge has no marketable skills beyond the game, so he casts about and lands on a brilliant notion: recruit college ball sensation and war hero Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski, “License to Wed”).
He succeeds, but discovers that Carter comes with baggage: there’s a story that the young man intimidated a platoon of Germans into surrendering, and feisty reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger, “Miss Potter”) is determined to debunk it. Of course, feisty reporters are nothing if not fiendishly attractive to leading men — which means both Dodge and Carter fall for her.
This wouldn’t be a romantic comedy if hilarity didn’t ensue, so it does, with plenty of snappy dialog and big laughs. And it wouldn’t be a football movie if it didn’t all culminate in a big showdown with our leading men on opposing teams, struggling to take each other down. The blend of sports and romance is well done, with plenty of witty repartee and screwballishness thrown in for good measure.
Clooney, Zellweger, and Krasinski all turn in solid performances in their one-dimensional roles. More importantly, they (and the entire supporting cast) manage to fit into the period feel of the picture, both in looks and dialog delivery. “Leatherheads” is a throwback to the heyday of screwball comedy, and while it has a definite hint of modern Hollywood about it, that doesn’t mess up the overall flavor of the piece. If anything, it makes it work even better. The entire film refuses to take itself too seriously, and that is what saves it from being a mechanical, uninteresting reworking of the same old stuff and turns it instead into a thoroughly enjoyable two hours at the movies.