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April 9, 2008

"Leatherheads" stumbles and fumbles

by Kiera Zitelman, Online Editor-in-Chief
After his 2005 critical triumph "Good Night and Good Luck," which garnered six Oscar nominations, director George Clooney had a lot to live up to with roles as producer, actor and director in "Leatherheads." Unfortunately, unlike his previous work, "Leatherheads" is a lightweight, instantly forgettable movie that pales in comparison to his previous films.

Clooney plays Dodge Connelly, a professional football player for the Duluth Bulldogs in 1925 (the title comes from the thin leather helmets the players wear). As his team folds due to lack of spectator interest, Dodge convinces college football sensation and supposed World War I hero Carter "The Bullet" Rutherford (John Krasinski, of Office fame) to restore the excitement of the game by leaving Princeton for Duluth. Chicago Tribune reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) tags along to find out just how true golden boy Carter's war story is. Predictably, a love triangle develops between the three, and Carter and Dodge become rivals all building up to a muddy, overblown face-off between the footballers.

Leatherheads

(released April 04, 2008) Chips Rating:
2 stars
PG-13
User Rating:
2.5 stars Votes: 10
A football player attempts to resurrect his team while courting a reporter and trying to outdo a college football star. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Dodge, Carter and Lexie's relationship is more of a pair of love line segments than a triangle. There is virtually no interaction between Carter and Dodge before they face off on the football field, but by this time they appear to be utter enemies. As they play together at the beginning of Carter's professional career, there is no indication of Dodge's feelings: jealousy, friendship, respect, hatred? "Leatherheads" inadequately develops the relationships between some characters, focusing instead on only a few. As a simple romantic comedy, there is really no excuse for not developing the interaction between Dodge and Carter until very late in the film.

While the plot goes down, "Leatherheads" at least gets the time period right. The football audiences are a sea of newsboy hats, flapper dresses and dark overcoats. The speakeasies, trains and football stadiums exude the Prohibition era, and a rich cast of supporting characters (though at times it feels like a few too many) is sometimes able to take the focus off of the skimpy plot.

Though its storyline is nothing to remember, "Leatherheads" is at least not a sports movie the one where Dodge's team would lose every game, Carter would come in and transform the Bulldogs into a championship squad, a rivalry would develop between the two, but eventually they would be friends and the Bulldogs would be unstoppable. The romantically-centered storyline is not a far cry, but it isn't entirely predictable as many sports movies are. If nothing else, thank Clooney for staying away from the cliche plotline, and using 1920s football only as the backdrop for a romance instead of the center of his story.

Krasinski brings so much of his Office character Jim Halpert into the movie, one might expect to see Pam Beesly, his secretary crush, sitting in the front row of his games. Sadly, "Leatherheads" only shows that Krasinski might never get beyond the role of the cute paper salesman from Scranton.

Nonetheless, his awkward grins and courtship fit Carter's character well enough. Clooney, along with his impeccably-combed hair, does not disappoint as the cocky Dodge, nor does Zellweger as a girl in the man's world of sports reporting. Unfortunately, even the best efforts of Krasinski and the veterans Zellweger and Clooney aren't enough to save "Leatherheads" from its inevitable fate as a quick-to-DVD romantic comedy a blip on Clooney's near-perfect career.



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