By Mike Dub
It seems that Kevin Costner has reached the point in his career where self-mockery passes for performance. Following in the steps of superior actors like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro before him, Costner has entered the golden years of his career with all the power of a Rascal easing down the vitamin aisle at Safeway. Over the last year, with turns in 3 Days to Kill, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and his latest “effort” Draft Day, Costner has matured from his early, boyishly roguish sports stud into a performer who seems capable of turning laconicism into an art form, if only he weren’t so damn lazy about it.
In Draft Day, every crutch he has mastered over the last thirty years is at his disposal. He growls instead of emotes, he double-takes instead of reacts, and his lifeless, deadpan delivery of every line aches to suggest a raging current of emotions lying somewhere deep inside, but the effort is lazy and transparent.
Not that he has much reason to exert himself for Draft Day, a staggeringly idiotic movie about the personal and professional upheavals of an NFL general manager on the most important day of the year. With its endless parade of stock characters and its depressingly conventional narrative, the movie’s script feels like it was composed using the latest story development software. The script is mechanically designed to appear inclusive to virtually any studio-studied demographic – football fans, non-football fans, adults, kids, teens, seniors, men, women, white, black, and so on. It’s unfortunate that Lionsgate has no interest in reaching the “intelligent life form” demographic, whose scores for this film are likely to be in the toilet.
Draft Day follows Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner), General Manager for the lowly Cleveland Browns, during, of course, draft day. Here is the day Weaver is having: his father died last week; the will reading is today; his girlfriend (who works for him) informed him last night that she’s pregnant; the team owner explicitly threatens to fire him on several occasions; his mom shows up to spread his father’s ashes (and to yell at Sonny); his ex-wife shows up, too, because sure; he has an openly hostile relationship with his head coach; and for some reason, he hasn’t properly vetted any of the draft’s highly touted prospects. The plot is too muddled to create drama, too desperate to be engaging, and too conventional to hold any sense of purpose.
While a software program seems to have laid the groundwork for the narrative structure of the movie, I’m going to assume a talent agent wrote most of the dialogue, primarily because I don’t think computers are that misogynistic. Sonny’s impregnated girlfriend, Ali (Jennifer Garner) is the team’s salary cap specialist, a pretty high-ranking position in an NFL organization. I admit that I haven’t spent much time in the executive offices of the Cleveland Browns, but I’m willing to bet that, on an average day, the real-life counterpart to Garner’s character does not spend most of his or her day answering phones, getting coffee, cleaning up other people’s offices, emotionally caring for interns, and easing the burden of the general manager’s midlife crisis. She appears to be the only adult in the entire film, so naturally the movie punishes her with the most menial tasks, such as exchanging goo-goo eyes with Costner.
She also has to deal with Sonny’s ex-wife (Rosanna Arquette), who exists in the movie for the sole purpose of defining Hollywood standards of age appropriateness. Sure, she and Sonny might have been young once together, but she’s become old and bitchy. Ali, twenty years her (and Sonny’s) junior, is a much more appealing partner, supportive, giving, without ego, and, most importantly, fertile.
Just to drive home the adolescent adoration of masculinity, the script is littered with references to balls. I don’t mean there are lots of juvenile jokes about sports equipment; this film is obsessed with defining virtue as manhood. “He had the balls…” “I wish I had the balls…” “You got some balls!” Masculine virility is equated with determination, independence and strength, marking Sonny as a Bush-ian decider who relies on his gut instead of his brain. No wonder his job is in jeopardy.
A single moment of truth seeps in through the vapidity. During one of his obligatory everyman speeches, Costner makes a confession. As though speaking to the camera, he admits he just doesn’t have it in him to be the blue collar, down-to-earth, homespun “average joe” who lives an admirable, productive life. He tries to be that guy, he pretends to be that guy, but deep down he knows he can never be that guy.
Ladies and gentlemen: Kevin Costner.