Leatherheads (2008)

*Leatherheads* has a few things in common with the other two movies (*Confessions of a Dangerous Mind* and *Good Night and Good Luck*) George Clooney has directed: Clooney is in it, the story is a retro affair set in the early to mid-20th century, and it is concerned, at least in part, with matters of journalistic ethics. It's notably different from the other two movies in this: it isn't very good.

*Leatherheads*, set in 1925, is about the early days of professional football, when the sport was a rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred game that, if the movie is to be believed, was a whole lot more fun when there were no rules and players were free to cheat to win. Shockingly, the game didn't draw big crowds. The fans all went for college football, where the likes of war hero-turned-Princeton QB Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) played the game and won all the Burma Shave endorsements.

Dodge Connelly (Clooney) plays for the Duluth Bulldogs, until the team goes bankrupt and all the players are sent back to their day jobs in the mines. When the down on his luck Dodge hears that Carter and his Princeton jocks draw crowds in the tens of thousands to their games, he recruits Carter for the Bulldogs. Carter comes with accessories in the form of C.C. Frazier (Jonathan Pryce), his sleazy sports agent, and a dame. There has to be a fast-talking dame -- and it's better if she's a ruthless reporter in a cloche hat -- in any movie that strives to be a thirties-style screwball comedy, as *Leatherheads* does. Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) fills that slot here. Lexie's been dispatched by the *Chicago Tribune* to write an expose of Carter. The boy's apparently not a genuine war hero, although he did fight in the Great War, and did get a medal for it.

It doesn't take long before Carter and Dodge have both fallen for the charmless Lexie, and wind up punching each other in the face repeatedly. Being mere football players, they don't do much damage to said faces, which is fortunate because it would be a shame to mess up the handsome mugs of Clooney and Krasinski in a movie that has little else going for it.

Randy Newman has composed a distracting retro score for *Leatherheads*. Undoubtedly, he was commissioned to write distracting music because the movie needs something distracting to draw attention away from the fact that what passes for snappy, hard-boiled banter in the script by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly (former *Sports Illustrated* scribes) ain't all that snappy or hard-boiled. It ain't much fun either. Clooney does an awful lot of eyebrow lifting and mugging for the camera, and a brawl seems to break out every 20 minutes or so, in between raids on speak-easies. *Leatherheads* is the kind of movie where all the right ingredients seem to be there, but the whole thing gets overcooked. The screwball comedies of the thirties made it all look effortless -- people talked fast and said clever things, crazy situations just happened, and in the battle of the sexes, everybody won. In the hands of the likes of Howard Hawks or Frank Capra, the screwball comedy had rhythm and bounce, it sizzled, it sang, it danced. *Leatherheads* makes it all look hard, and the results are not commensurate with the effort. No bounce, no sizzle, no dance, no fun.

Even the final gridiron showdown -- the moment of transcendent, against-the-odds triumph is the *de rigueur* capper to any sports movie -- is too little, and far too late. It *has* to come at the end of the movie, of course, and it does, but this movie pulled over with a flat tire about 20 minutes earlier, and no old timey football game can get it rolling again.