"Draft Day" is a "ticking-clock" thriller built around the NFL draft, a movie that counts down to the fateful decision that one embattled general manager (Kevin Costner) makes with his team’s first-round pick.
It’s a reasonably interesting — to NFL fans, anyway — peek behind the curtains at the wheeling, dealing and overthinking that goes on as teams and managers and coaches try to avoid looking as if they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re nagged into making hasty or ill-advised decisions by agents and the players they represent, and showboating owners who like to "make a splash," get their faces on ESPN and impress the hometown folks with their football acumen.
The GMs have their own slang and their own swagger, which makes this a natural for Costner.
But for the casual fan and the casual filmgoer, it can be a bit of a melodramatic bore.
Costner is Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager of the hapless Cleveland Browns. They have an antsy owner (Frank Langella) and a new, preening coach (Denis Leary) who likes to flash his Super Bowl ring under everybody’s nose. Will Frank pick a cocky, pushy defensive back (Chadwick Boseman of "42") or trade up to land the Heisman Trophy winner (Josh Pence)?
"Draft Day" sets out to show how a Johnny Manziel or Jadeveon Clowney’s stock rises and falls in the hours leading up to their big payday.
"You only get drafted once," Sonny tells his prospects. Better enjoy it.
Sonny gathers intel from his staff and steels himself to make a decision he knows the owner will not like. Then more gossip comes in, and he’s on the fence. Everybody is playing the angles against everybody else.
What doesn’t work is the added melodrama. Sonny’s dad, who just died, used to be the Browns’ coach. His mom (Ellen Burstyn) won’t get off his back. And his interoffice romance (Jennifer Garner) just gave him some news.
"Draft Day" is an NFL- and ESPN-sanctioned dramedy designed to cash in on and maybe goose interest in the draft, which TV and the league have turned into a spring spectacle.
Costner and Garner are good and Langella properly menacing, but Leary has lost his fastball and seems to be holding something back in his quarrel scenes with Costner. Costner has to carry the film, which he does. But he has a hard time making this tale of accountants and agents and athletes with off-field problems exciting.
For the fans, it’s a competent eye-opener, a movie that makes you understand Jets quarterback Geno Smith’s fury at falling out of the first round and the sort of whispering campaigns that this closed culture of front-office folks mount to let them win in May, even if they don’t win come fall.
Review by Roger Moore, McClatchy Newspapers