Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Conway, Michael Rispoli, Kirk Acevedo, Michael Nouri
Director: Ericson Core
Hey, cool, a true-story sports movie where the lead character is an older-than-average player who overcomes the odds to become a star…! Oh, no, wait, I already saw that movie; it was called “The Rookie.” It won’t be a dramatic shock to your system, then, to see that “Invincible,” the tale of an average Joe…or, in this case, an average Vince…who becomes an unlikely football hero, was produced by the same folks who were behind “The Rookie” (Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray).
In the ‘70s, the Philadelphia Eagles…well, let us not mince words: they sucked, and they sucked hard. They were, to borrow a phrase, just about the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked. As such, when Dick Vermeil – the former UCLA coach still riding high on a Rose Bowl victory (played here by Greg Kinnear) – was hired to whip the Eagles into shape, his first big move was to try and whip the Eagles’ fans into shape; to grab media attention, he offered open tryouts for the Eagles. Vince Papale (Wahlberg), a 30-year-old out-of-work substitute teacher who pays his rent by tending bar, steps up to the challenge and…well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending for you, but let’s just say that it plays out over the strains of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Let It Ride.”
Actually, that begs a very important question: can you really spoil the ending of a well-documented true story? Not really. But even if you haven’t read Papale’s autobiography, you’ve probably seen enough sports-related flicks to know that path from start to finish is pretty much a straight line; one where the lead character begins as a nobody and ends up a somebody. As such, because the end of the movie is a given (since precious few films have been made about losers), what counts the most is how well the cast does their job at keeping the viewer entertained between the two points…and, fortunately, they do quite well.
Few actors play the part of the everyman better than Mark Wahlberg, and he’s given a solid cast to play his tight-knit group of buddies, with Michael Rispoli and Kirk Acevedo being the standouts of the bunch. Janet, Vince’s love interest in the film (and an unbridled Giants fan, to the chagrin of Vince and his friends), is played with maximum cuteness by Elizabeth Banks. Kinnear does a nice job portraying the naiveté of Coach Vermeil, though his performance suffers a bit at first because it’s just so hard to picture him as the tough-as-nails coach type. Unfortunately, his wife Carol (played by Paige Turco, of “Rescue Me” fame), has the sort of underwritten role where she only pops up to offer her husband sage advice like, “Only you can make that decision.”
Those who know Papale’s story will no doubt be surprised to see just how streamlined the man’s life has become in its transformation onto celluloid (he’s portrayed as a guy who has little and then proceeds to lose it all in rapid succession, but there’s no mention of the fact that he spent two years playing in the World Football League before his NFL tryout), but that’s Hollywood for you. Besides, all you really need to know about the man and his experience in the NFL is that even though there’s never any question about how it’s going to play out, you still find yourself on the verge of cheering at the end.
We know the film is good, but is the DVD as well? Not really. The commentary track featuring the real-life Vince Papale is a nice touch, and the featurette about is life works well as supplementary material to the film, but it still feels pretty weak for a Disney release.