A working knowledge of how the NFL’s somewhat antiquated but weirdly compelling draft system plays out is not necessary to enjoy Ivan Reitman’s ‘Draft Day.’ In fact, such a knowledge base may actually prove detrimental, if only because there’s absolutely no way that the majority of what happens on the big screen ever goes down in real life. Reitman’s latest film – a basically light-hearted sports-centric dramedy – takes places entirely on the eponymous day, following the various highs and lows of a struggling general manager, and while it’s frequently quite entertaining, it also seems as if it was created to appeal to people who find football only vaguely interesting (but who like Kevin Costner a whole lot).

Costner stars in the film as Sonny Weaver, Jr., the fictional general manager of the perennially struggling Cleveland Browns football organization. Sonny’s backstory is interesting enough – the son of a beloved Cleveland coach, he made big waves when he fired his pop the previous year. Still worse, the guy went ahead and died soon afterwards, and ‘Draft Day’ opens just a week after Sonny, Sr. kicked the bucket. Junior’s loss, however, hasn’t tempered the fans’ emotions, and they still seem to be calling for his head – or, at the very least, they seem pretty primed to call for his head, should he mess up this particular draft.

Guess what! Sonny is going to mess up the draft! Kind of!

The Browns have a few pressing needs to fill up their middling team, and although they don’t have first pick at the draft, they’ve certainly got some nice prospects. There’s Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman), who has been calling up Sonny since the combines, and Ray Jennings (Arian Foster), the son of a former player who might have just taken himself out of the running, thanks to some petty crime. But there’s also golden boy Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), who will probably go first in the draft, which is why, when Seattle offers a few trades to Cleveland that will allow them to snap up Callahan, Sonny goes for it.

What follows is a series of almost-mishaps, as Sonny struggles to reconcile what he wants for the team and what everyone else thinks is best (from sunglasses-clad owner Anthony Molina, played by Frank Langella, to Denis Leary as the salty head coach, Coach Penn) over the course of just one day. It’s a busy day, perhaps the most busy of Sonny’s entire career, and he’s got plenty of other stuff to worry about. Sonny has some everything-but-the-kitchen-sink problems on the side – the dead dad, a pregnant girlfriend (Jennifer Garner, playing a refreshingly smart and capable co-worker of Sonny’s) – and they all get compounded by smaller irritations that pop up throughout the day, like an absentee assistant (who is temporarily replaced by exceedingly well-meaning intern Rick, played by the very funny Griffin Newman) and a deranged mother (with his ex-wife in tow, just for funsies!).

‘Draft Day’ has more than enough drama to drive it, and Costner is a fine fit for the leading role, but the material isn’t tight enough, and long stretches of the film drag on with little pause. Even getting to the actual draft portion of the story takes far too long, and when it finally kicks off, it’s easy to wish that the entire film was set during the televised event.

The film is also awkwardly beholden to a number of stylistic flourishes that often seem overbearing – a ticking clock that counts down to the titular event is fine enough, but flashy intertitles that introduce various teams, cities, and stadiums are laughably obvious – though nothing is nearly as bad as the way Reitman chooses to present the film’s many, many phone calls. Yes, plenty of the action of ‘Draft Day’ hinges on various telephone conversations between Sonny and other general managers, but instead of trusting that the content of the chats will be compelling enough, Reitman portrays each call through the magic of the split screen. And not just regular split screen! Sliding, swishing split screen, weirdly CGI-ed so that characters can actually walk across each other while speaking to each other from different states. At best, it’s distracting; at worst, it looks cheap and silly.

That’s perhaps the film’s biggest problem – ‘Draft Day’ has plenty of compelling and interesting material to keep it chugging right along, but over-the-top flourishes and a lack of forward motion keep it hanging back. Consider it this way – it’s not a first round draft pick, but it will probably go sometime in the fourth round (see! you can learn things about football from ‘Draft Day’!).


'Draft Day' opens in theaters on April 11.

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