An old-fashioned return to the romantic comedies of decades long past, "Leatherheads" is only missing one key componentblack-and-white photographythat would have sealed the deal on making it seem like it was made in 1934. If nostalgia is all that older viewers are asking for, the film gets the job done. Still, there isn't a strong enough story or quite enough sparkle and wit between leads George Clooney (2007's "Michael Clayton
") and Renée Zellweger (2005's "Cinderella Man
") for the picture to crackle to life as it should.
The year is 1925, a time when American pro football was still in its infancy. In a bid to gather a thriving team together and fill up the stands, eldest player Jimmy 'Dodge' Connelly (George Clooney) successfully drafts hotshot college phenom Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) to his burgeoning team, the Duluth Bulldogs. Enter crackerjack Chicago Tribune
reporter Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger), who has been assigned to interview Carter and write a story about his past as a war hero and his future as one of the country's most promising football players. As Carter and Dodge both begin to fall for this ambitious beauty, Lexie is placed in a precarious position when the former reveals in confidence that the inspirational stories about him during World War I aren't entirely true.
With his matinee idol good looks and charming wiliness, George Clooney is well-suited for his role as Jimmy 'Dodge' Connelly in "Leatherheads," a film that none too subtly harkens back to the days of "It Happened One Night" and "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town." Renée Zellweger, as fast-talking news reporter Lexie Littleton, is also perfectly cast, having just the right look and vocal affectations for the part. Together, these two share a certain amount of chemistry, particularly in a sweetly daffy set-piece in which they must elude the cops after the speakeasy they're in is raided, but no real rooting interest is created in whether these two people get together.
Why Clooney, who additionally directs from a screenplay by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, felt that this particular story was one that needed to be told is the biggest mystery. The film begins as a sports movie, albeit a conventional and hokey one, and portends to depict the early days of professional football. This is promptly tossed out by the half-hour mark as the movie turns into a romance, a screwball comedy, and an overwrought tale of a journalist breaking a story and then getting into hot water when she is unable to prove what she knows to be the truth. This latter plot thread, which includes a hoary courtroom scene, takes up an inordinate amount of time, only to culminate in shoulder-shrugging triviality. By the time the competitive game of football enters back into the equation for the way-too-long climax, the viewer has all but forgotten it's supposed to be a sports tale and no longer cares.
Technical credits are top-tier in emulating the 1920s era, from the tantalizingly yellow-hued cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel (2006's "Superman Returns
"), to the exacting production design and art direction, to the appropriately springy period music. Where "Leatherheads" misses the mark is in its lack of focus and tone. Who is this film for? Sports fans will not get what they've come for. The comedy is of the smile-and-not-laugh variety. The core romance is only really touched upon, more of a backdrop than a central story point. And, finally, the news story angle concerning Lexie lacks depth and intrigue. What is left, then, is a film that's neither here nor there, certainly not bad but also so frivolous that there's nothing to grab onto and take away from it all. "Leatherheads" is a good-looking but misguided waste of time and effort.