Opens Friday

In Draft Day, Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., a fictional general manager of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. Raised around football by his recently departed father, a legendary Browns head coach, Weaver is feeling the heat of running a perennially losing football team. (So it’s not entirely fictional.)

Weaver is lambasted by sports-radio hosts, second-guessed by the team’s owner (Frank Langella) and pestered by the new, previously Super Bowl-winning head coach (Denis Leary). Meanwhile, Weaver faces parenthood with his coworker and pregnant girlfriend (Jennifer Garner).

Everyone has an idea about what he should do with the Browns’ No. 1 draft position. Weaver always wanted the chance to mold a team to his vision, but with so many different opinions pushing him around, what’s the right move?

For football fans, Draft Day has provoked a foreboding feeling since the first trailer was released. While other sports have multiple classic films based on their exploits, football hasn’t been as lucky. Sure, an argument can be made that a few football movies have great scenes, but no truly great films have taken place on the gridiron.

Each new commercial for Draft Day made it seem focused on the financial realities of running a team, but we held onto the possibility that an authority figure pulling off impossible roster moves would add much-needed thrills to the film.

If there were any hope of football finally getting its masterpiece, the first stumble in the process happened when Ivan Reitman was hired to direct. Reitman is regarded as a comedic genius, with several of his films rightly considered modern classics. But looking over his filmography, it comes as a shock that it’s been 21 years since his last arguably great film, Dave.

With actors of this caliber, even a novice would have a fighting chance of making a passable film. But Reitman allows most of the male characters to act like they had never seen a femaleor a computer, for that matterin an office setting before. He also chooses some antiquated visual flourishes more befitting a community college film student than a director of his experience. I haven’t seen this many screen wipes since my eighth-grade audio-visual class.

Fortunately, Costner is here, continuing a quiet career renaissance. He’s been the best thing about recent films he appears in (see also Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit). The arrogance that can sometimes detract from his performances is nowhere to be found, as he believably inhabits the role of a harried middle-aged man chasing his last shot at relevance.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Blood sports”