Draft Day (2014)

The NFL is the most popular sport in America.  Almost every kind of sports movie has been made at least once.  Draft Day, a 2014 Ivan Reitman movie starring Kevin Costner, is a sports movie focused on the NFL Draft and the drama that takes place during the draft, an offseason event that every football fan in America looks forward to.  A whole industry of pundits has risen up around draft hype.  Given that actual NFL teams are involved in this movie and the NFL Commissioner himself appears in this movie, this is a film that was clearly approved by the NFL.  It’s a shame because Draft Day is a laughable portrayal of the behind the scenes action of the NFL Draft.

The film takes place on the day of the NFL Draft and is centered around the Cleveland Browns and their beleaguered general manager, Sonny Weaver (Costner), who is under pressure by the team owner, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), to make a big splash and turn the fortunes of the team around.  He’s butting heads with Coach Penn (Dennis Leary), his new head coach, and he’s also sleeping with his salary cap expert, Ali (Jennifer Garner), who drops the bombshell that she’s pregnant on the morning of the draft.  Sonny panics and trades up for the number one pick, mortgaging his team’s future for a chance to take the top QB of the draft, someone everyone thinks is a can’t miss star.  Sonny has to decide if this is the right move for the franchise and himself, as so much rides on what will happen on this day.  Oh, and a plotline of Sonny’s relationship with his mom (Ellen Burstyn) and his recently deceased father is thrown in for good measure.

Writers Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph pile on so many ludicrous storylines and twists that the movie becomes completely absurd.  Jennifer Garner’s Ali is only in the movie to provide a female presence in a mostly all-male cast.  The hush-hush nature of their relationship and the strained attempt at adding relationship drama on top of everything happening during this day just falls flat.  There are so many other things wrong with this movie.

Sonny lives in the shadow of his father who was the coach up until Sonny was hired as GM, and then Sonny publicly fired him (as it turns out, for his own good as his father’s health was failing and he was too proud to step down, I think?).  Sonny’s mother first pops up offering football advice, as if Sonny needs another voice of input at this point, showing that she is pretty knowledgeable about the game herself, having been married to a coach for so long.  And yet, inexplicably, she decides to show up at the team’s facility mere hours before the draft to announce that today, of all days, is the right time to spread her husband’s ashes on the practice field, because of course.

Another problem the film has is with simple logistics.  Langella’s owner decides to go to New York so he can personally put the #1 jersey on his future star QB, even though Sonny and his advisors have not decided on this kid yet.  When the pick is made and things don’t entirely go to the owner’s pleasing, he hopes on his private jet and flies back to Cleveland to confront/fire Sonny.  I’m not entirely sure of how long it would take a normal human being to leave a stage at Madison Square Garden in New York City, make it to the airport, board a private jet, and fly to Cleveland, and then drive to the Browns’ facility, but he manages to do so in the space of about 5 picks, which is somewhere between and thirty minutes and an hour because teams are only allowed 10 minutes to make their first round picks in the NFL Draft.

The office dynamics of this organization that Sonny is in charge of is completely crazy.  Coach Penn and Sonny cannot see eye to eye on anything regarding the draft, and the movie makes it seem for 95% of its runtime that Sonny wasn’t even involved in Penn’s hiring, which is ridiculous if that were the case.  Never mind that, before Sonny pulls the trigger on trading up to the #1 pick, Coach Penn wants to use the team’s 1st round pick (#8 overall) on a running back, a position that has become more and more devalued in the NFL in recent seasons (so much so that no running backs have been drafted in the first round of each of the last two real NFL Drafts).

Penn’s pig-headedness about RBs would normally be enough to make you side with Sonny if he weren’t so pig-headed about being “The Decider” when it comes to these decisions.  He hardly welcomes any input from his scouts, except for one, and continually tells people to shut up and let him do his job.  Apparently he’s supposed to be a maverick, but he just comes across as insane.  If an actual NFL GM were to do what Costner’s Sonny pulls in this movie, he would definitely be fired.  And the trades are atrocious, and more inexplicable and unlikely than the last as Sonny wheels and deals.

In real life, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is a master of draft day trades, maneuvering around the board, acquiring picks, and positioning the Patriots to get the players they like and get good value.  He’s often exploited GMs of lesser teams several times; the Oakland Raiders come to mind, as do one or two times when a QB-needy team has sacrificed future 1st round picks to move up while the Patriots move back a few spots.  If you’re a GM on draft day, you probably shouldn’t be taking phone calls from Bill Belichick, just assume you’re getting the worse end of the deal.  And yet, teams still do it.  All of that is to say that Sonny is definitely someone Bill Belichick would be on the phone with on draft day.

Costner has been involved in some of the best sports movies of all time, including Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and Tin Cup, among others.  This is not one of those movies.  It’s a shame to see Ivan Reitman’s name attached to a movie like this as director; the man who made Ghostbusters and Stripes reduced to hack status by projects like this.  There are also a ton of cameos, clearly people who thought it would be cool to be involved in a movie that the NFL was getting behind.  The only way I can recommend this movie is in a “so-bad-it’s-good” manner for people who are football fans and want to laugh at the absurdity of it all, because it’s garbage any other way.

Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars

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