Since sports movies have been done to death, with most of them these days being mere rehashes of previous films, it is imperative that they be able to stand out in a crowd. Breaking conventions is rare2004's "Million Dollar Baby
" was possibly the last one that could be called originalso it is in the use of said conventions where a sports pic lives or dies. "Invincible," basedwouldn't you know iton a true story, is Walt Disney Pictures' latest bid within the genre, following such feel-good efforts as 2000's "Remember the Titans
," 2002's "The Rookie
," and 2004's "Miracle
." Unfortunately, there is nothing to differentiate it from the overdone spate. This is generic storytelling any way you look at it.
Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) is a down-on-his-luck guy living in a blue-collar Philadelphia neighborhood, circa 1976, unable to make ends meet with his two part-time jobs as a bartender and substitute teacher. Soon after his wife (Lola Glaudini) walks out on him, leaving behind a bitter note that tells him he'll never amount to anything, he is let go from his teaching job. Things can't get much worse for Vince, so, when the Philadelphia Eagles football team makes the unanticipated decision to open up tryouts to the public, he figures he has nothing to lose. What he can't possibly anticipate is that he actually makes it through the tryouts, and then the first round of training, and then the second, impressing Eagles coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) with what he describes as "heart." Once Vince overcomes all the odds and is offered a spot in the NFL, the pressure is on to prove his worth, both for the troubled team, for his family and friends, and for himself.
"Invincible" is directed by Ericson Core, a cinematographer (2003's "Daredevil
") making his filmmaking debut. Looking at the picture from an aesthetic angle, this is not surprising. Indeed, it is Core's keen visual sense that is one of the few things the film has going for it. A sense of time and place is well captured, having been shot in real Philadelphia burgs and implementing an appropriate soundtrack of recognizable classic rock tracks. The football scenes, although emotionally inert, are at least interestingly filmed with smooth, dreamlike camera movements across the field, through the action, and above the stadium. Paying attention to the images and shutting out the dialogue and strictly predictable plot developments is not difficult to do, as they hold little of interest.
Where "Invincible" fumbles is in its telling of a story that, historically noteworthy or not, isn't dramatically potent enough for a cinematic treatment. Once one gets past the core achievement Vince Papale makes in being chosen to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, there is nowhere else to go. The climax, set at the team's first home game, doesn't exactly hold the same stakes that, say, the Super Bowl would, and even the postscript on Vince is dull: he played for three seasons with the Eagles. That's it. Sure, he wasn't trained in football and was a little long in the tooth at thirty to be handpicked for the NFL, but these small details does not an exciting or standout sports movie make. For a far, far superior football tale about an underdog rising to triumph, 1993's excellent "Rudy" puts "Invincible" to shame.
Mark Wahlberg (2004's "I ♥ Huckabees
") headlines the cast as Vince Papale, and this is not one of his better performances. Aside from being physically miscasthis 5'8" frame is too slight to pull off the reportedly 6'2" VinceWahlberg never endears his character upon the viewer in a way that would make one want to actively pull for him to succeed. With his heart seeming to not be in it, Wahlberg's acting is overshadowed by the deep creases in between his eyes. As Coach Dick Vermeil, Greg Kinnear (2006's "Little Miss Sunshine
") is also not an ideal choice for the real-life figure he's portraying. There is a vague resemblance to the actual Vermeil, seen at the end in stock footage, but Kinnear has a face and voice that suggests smarminess rather than the intended sympathy. This might be why he was much better playing the antagonistic Little League coach in 2005's "Bad News Bears
." Finally, Elizabeth Banks (2006's "Slither
") brings some life to the underwritten part of Janet, a feisty bartender whom Vince falls for, but an actress of her talent and range deserves better.
Equipped with a listless story and flat characterizationsVince's teammates are all but ignored and no attempt is made to develop any of them beyond faces in a locker room"Invincible" is anything but. Save for a horridly conceived slow-motion scene dripping in schmaltz and homoerotic stares in which Vince returns to his old stomping ground and plays a game of football with his buddies in the pouring rain, there isn't much that is outright bad about the film. It's capably made, but resounds with hollowness. Uncomplicated in the extreme and yawn-inducing in its lack of conflict and urgency, "Invincible" is a forgettable sports yarn straight off the assembly line.