Leatherheads George Clooney

Leatherheads George Clooney
George Clooney deploys his charming smile to make blockbuster movies (the Oceans films), to get small movies made (Good Night and Good Luck) and in this case, to try and carry a 1920s football screwball comedy. But in this last case, in which he stars as Dodge Connelly, a down-and-out professional footballer trying to save the nascent dirty-play sport, he’s smiling as hard as he can on a slowly sinking ship.

Clooney does all he can to embrace his "modern day Cary Grant” image, to the point of lifting a chunk of plot from a classic: The Philadelphia Story. In an effort to save his fledgling league, Dodge recruits college star and war hero Carter Rutherford (The Office’s John Krazinkski). When suspicions arise about Rutherford’s war record, local newspaper reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) is dispatched to uncover the dirt.

What follows is a muddle of several plots: the rise of professional football from Globetrotters-esque clowning to legitimate sport; Rutherford’s war record and the ways in which he’s been spun into a media hero; and a romantic banter subplot between Connelly and Littleton that should be about gum snapping and lightning-fast witty rejoinders but sadly it isn’t.

While Clooney grins, mugs and gets comically punched in the face as much as possible, he seems to have forgotten to actually direct the movie, or even decide what movie exactly he’s making. The early football scenes never delve to the depths of comic amateurism and ridiculousness, and the final game takes way too long, well past our caring; the war hero plot seems to belong in a different, less slapsticky movie; and the romantic tension between Zellweger and Clooney seems forced.

Zellweger actually has more chemistry with Krazinski but Leatherheads doesn’t go there. After all, it has to make room for Clooney to throw in a few more double takes and to get hilariously punched in the face one or two more times. (Universal)