Sunday, December 21, 2014

"Draft Day" Wants to Be Football Movies' Answer to "Moneyball," but Falls Way Short of the Goal

Kevin Costner does his best to make Draft Day enjoyable.

Draft Day is to football as Moneyball is to baseball.” 

That’s how I imagine Draft Day was pitched and sold, but while both films focus on the front office maneuvering and domestic issues of general managers, they don’t represent a correlation worthy of a verbal reasoning test. Better to say Moneyball is to a great film as Draft Day is to some ludicrous fantasy scenario with overzealous editing tricks that’s propped up and made serviceable by the charms of Kevin Costner. That probably wouldn’t get put onto any test either, but at least it’s honest. 

Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., the GM of the Cleveland Browns who has drawn the ire of fans for firing the beloved long-time coach of the team, a man who also happens to have been Sonny’s dad and who also just happened to die a week before the draft. 

With the seventh pick in the draft, Sonny is debating between Vontae Mack, the flashy linebacker he’d like to take, and Ray Jennings, the running back the fans and current coach of the team (Dennis Leary) want him to choose. Then he gets a call from the Seattle Seahawks with an offer: they’ll give him the first pick in the draft, which he could then use on heralded quarterback Bo Callahan, for his next three first round selections. Despite having a veteran quarterback coming off an injury who he believes in (Tom Welling), Sonny makes the deal because his owner (Frank Langella) has told him to make a splash. Then he spends the rest of the movie trying to convince himself why taking Callahan is a bad idea. 

For most of its length, Draft Day is satisfactorily amiable, even if it goes way overboard with overlapping scene editing and all the damn domestic issues plaguing Sonny on this of all days. That his budget person/secret girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) would tell Sonny she’s pregnant – on this of all days – seems odd enough, but then throw on top of that the fact that his mother would throw a stink about spreading his father’s ashes on the field – on this of all days – and it just comes across as a wee bit much. I mean seriously – on this of all days? 

However, the film really runs into problems with the climax, which takes a look at the far-fetched domestic pile up, and says “You want to get ridiculous? Fine. I’ll get ridiculous. Nothing is more ridiculous about this movie than me. ‘Ridiculous’ is my middle name.” (warning: spoilers coming). 
Draft Day employs a whole lot of overlapping split screens to liven
up what is mostly a series of phone conversations.
Convinced that Callahan doesn’t have what it takes, Weaver goes with his gut and takes Mack. When Callahan starts falling down the draft board, it begins to look like Seattle could end up with the consensus number one pick and Sonny’s next to first rounders – a true boon for Seattle’s GM, who has been getting crushed by the fans for giving up the rights to drafting the league’s next great quarterback. 

That's when the movie starts slinging bullshit. It becomes obvious Callahan will fall to the Jacksonville Jaguars at six, but their rookie GM is shitting his pants, unsure of what to do and nervous to pick Callahan since other teams are passing on him. Sonny calls the guy and offers him a safety valve against making a disastrous selection – trade Cleveland the sixth pick for three years of second rounders. Miraculously, the Jacksonville GM takes the deal, and then Sonny calls the Seattle GM. He offers him the chance to trade for the sixth pick, draft Callahan and calm the vitriol of the Seattle fans, provided he return the three first round picks back to Cleveland. Seattle takes the bait, Cleveland picks Jennings, and Sonny comes out of the whole thing looking like a genius. 

The problem here is that this whole climax is utter nonsense – it’s the type of thing only a genie could make happen, and even then I’m not sure. There is no way in hell the Seattle GM would just cave and give up the picks like that. He’d probably call the bluff, noting that Weaver passed on the quarterback once, and he’d probably do it again. 

And even if the Seattle GM would be spooked into doing what Sonny wanted, there is no way three second round selections would garner a top 10 pick in the draft. And even if the rookie GM was an idiot willing to do that, he’d still have a slew of advisers telling him, ‘No.’ And even if the team in Jacksonville did decide to trade the pick, they’d almost certainly use all of the allotted ten minutes to find a better deal (perhaps with Seattle, who would have all sorts of picks to deal). Instead, they trade with Cleveland before they are even on the clock – an awful decision that occurs solely so the movie can allow Sonny enough time to call Seattle and make a trade. 

Although it was criticized for being too inside-football for mainstream audiences, Draft Day, like Moneyball before it, tries to make things as digestible as possible. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but unfortunately, while Moneyball opted to focus on the simpler aspects of a complicated system, Draft Day flat out dumbs things down. Although reality isn’t something I really require in my movies, and it’s definitely not something I require in my sports movies, Draft Day is just too damn much to take. C-