- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
hen “Leatherheads” was yanked from its December release schedule at the end of last year, the studio already had an excuse lined up. Director/co-star George Clooney had just been involved in a motorcycle accident and would no longer be able to promote the film. When it was revealed just how minor his injuries were, however, the studio decided to beef up their statement by claiming that Clooney was also in the middle of production on another movie. It was all true, of course, but that didn’t stop me from remaining cautious. After all, most movies that have had their release dates pushed back in the past were for good reason, and “Leatherheads” is no different. Though it has the makings of a great homage to screwball comedies, Clooney’s latest directorial effort fails in executing it in a manner that is appealing to mainstream audiences.
The year is 1925, and though professional football exists, it has yet to become legitimized as an official league. Teams play games in the middle of farmland, welcome fans by the hundreds, and follow absolutely no rules. When the league begins to fold due to a lack of interest, however, Duluth Bulldogs captain Dodge Connolly (Clooney) sets out to save his job. His savior comes in the form of Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford (John Krasinski), an American war hero and college football star with a fanbase well into the tens of thousands. Confident that Carter’s move to the big leagues will increase interest in the sport, Dodge makes a deal with Carter’s agent (Jonathan Pryce) to bring him over from Princeton to play for Duluth. Along for the ride is Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger), a star reporter for the Chicago Tribune who's been assigned to uncover the truth behind Carter’s highly publicized war tale about single-handedly defeating an entire German platoon.
Unfortunately, there’s very little football to be found in this supposed football comedy (the fact that we never learn what position Dodge plays is proof of that), and anyone walking into the film thinking otherwise will be more disappointed than when they first tuned in to an episode of “Friday Night Lights.” Instead, the movie abandons the football subplot relatively quickly, turning its attention to Lexie’s newspaper story and the love triangle between her, Dodge and Carter for the remainder of the film. Both prove less entertaining than the potential comedy that would have come from following around the ragtag team (think "Major League"), and both have been done several times before. Of course, that’s sort of the point. Clooney is clearly a fan of screwball comedies (as witnessed in past films with the Coen brothers), and while a movie like this certainly doesn’t need someone like him behind the camera, it’s a project that he’s passionate about.
He might just be a little too passionate, however, because while Clooney rarely chooses a bad script, “Leatherheads” is the kind of film that he would have signed on for without even reading one. Written by first-time scribes Duncan Brantley and sports columnist Rick Reilly, “Leatherheads” is littered with just about every 1920s movie cliché short of an evil villain that twists his mustache when he laughs. And yes, that includes the trademark bar fight, complete with a piano player who stops mid-song to smash a bottle over someone’s head. Granted, the three stars have excellent comedic timing, but it’s all just a little too goofy for the average moviegoer.
While Clooney deserves credit for trying, a little research would have shown that this concept rarely works. The last time a studio tried to replicate a decade-specific production was 2003’s “Down with Love," and though that movie was actually pretty good, it failed miserably at the box office. “Leatherheads” could have been even better, but Clooney tries to accomplish too much in the time allotted. He desperately wants “Leatherheads” to be both a screwball comedy and romantic comedy, all while existing in two separate worlds. The marketing for the film, however, remains focused on just the football, but “Leatherheads” is more “His Girl Friday” than “The Longest Yard,” and for that, Clooney should be flagged for foul play.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
“Leatherheads” may not have been a total box office flop, but it certainly did much worse than people anticipated. It’s not surprising, then, that the Blu-ray release is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, the audio commentary with director/star George Clooney and producer Grant Heslov is so dry and uninteresting that not even the addition of a visual commentary helps much. To make matters worse, the visual commentary only appears on select scenes, and so jumping back and forth between the two tracks is hardly worth the effort. Thankfully, the picture-in-picture video offers so much insight into the making of the film (via interviews with the cast and crew) that it’s really the only extra that needed to be included. Skip the audio commentary and just watch "Leatherheads" with the picture-in-picture switched on: it's a lot more interesting and serves as an excellent supplement to the movie.