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Leatherheads Not Ready for the Big Leagues

Directed by George Clooney
Written by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly
Universal, 2008

There’s no doubt that George Clooney likes things “old-timey,” as the phrase went in O Brother Where Art Thou. His previous two directorial installments have been about the past, plus you throw in throwbacks like Intolerable Cruelty and The Good German, then just add in the fact that Clooney himself is one of those “last movie stars.” His career and persona are all one giant throwback.

There is something to be said for the romantic comedies of long ago, when the banter between men and women flew fast and skirted the Hays Code. But given a modern day light, the dialogue of yesteryear will always sound like just an experiment when you throw it into a modern-day movie, even if the modern-day movie is about the past. To throw another Coen Brothers film into the mix, The Hudsucker Proxy tried to do this back in 1994 and I still think it’s the most successful try (I actually loved it), but it was a critical and financial bomb. I don’t think it was because it was a throwback, but more because it’s called The Hudsucker Proxy and it was an impossible-to-market film. I think the throwbacks mostly fail because there isn’t as much effort in telling a good story to go along with the gimmick.

It’s the 1920’s and Dodge Connelly (Clooney) wants to legitimize football, so he begins by promising large amounts of cash to the sport’s biggest college star, Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), who also just happens to be a war hero.

Enter reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), who wants a story on Rutherford and then ends up in a romantic entanglement, to the point where Rutherford is ready to trust her with his biggest secret, one that could end his career and hopes of football becoming a profession. Meanwhile, Lexie and Dodge are the “real” couple, but they just have to get beyond all the hoopla surrounding Rutherford and hi seemingly perfect life.

I found this charming while Clooney and Zellweger traded old-school barbs but it collapses on the weight of a too-important subplot. The love of football doesn’t seem to shine right through, either. The movie could have been light fun; a love triangle that actually makes sense (kind of like Bull Durham) that could have played out over a season and we could have seen witty dialogue flying all over the screen. But it’s far too interested in the Rutherford “scandal.”

There’s a lot to like, but it’s ultimately not worth it.

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