'Leatherheads' fumbles with dialogue

Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2008

The stars were aligning in the skies over the Hollywood sign for "Leatherheads."

Courtesy Of Casey Silver Productions
Courtesy Of Casey Silver Productions

Over the two weeks leading up to its release, stars John Krasinski and George Clooney were on the media tour charming every audience from Jay Leno's to ESPN radio's (after all, it's a football movie). Previews were on TV so often I began to be convinced - hey, it must be good if they're spending this much on advertising! Finally, "The Office" (and Krasinski's Jim Halpert) was set to return to NBC with new episodes the week after "Leatherheads" opened.

Eventually, though, "Leatherheads" had to stand or fall on its own.

If you watch TV even a little bit, chances are you've seen a preview or two for "Leatherheads," so you probably know the gist: It's 1925, professional football is a joke and wheezing its last breath. Clooney (Dodge Connelly) is the aging face of the dying sport, and he sees a way to save it - war hero and Princeton star Carter Rutherford (Krasinski). Dodge convinces Carter to leave Princeton to play for the Duluth Bulldogs. Meanwhile, a feisty female reporter (Renee Zellweger) has been assigned to dig into Rutherford's actions in the war. And guess what? Dodge and Carter both fall for Zellweger!

Say, what do ya think?

I ask that (and I ask it with those words) because they talk like that in this movie. "Say" apparently means "hi." "Leatherheads," in fact, is very much a dialogue-driven film. And while I'm apparently too young to get the desired feeling of the movie, even I could tell it was trying really hard to be a clever, old-fashioned throwback. After a little digging around the names I found were Preston Sturges and Howard Hawks; they apparently made films 70 years ago, and apparently director Clooney liked them a lot because he's imitating them now.

Whatever. The truth is it doesn't really work. I mostly blame Rick Reilly (whom I love as a sports writer) and Duncan Brantley's script, which struggles to feel at home with the you-then-me-then-you-then-me rapid fire dialogue. Clooney and Zellweger, who handle most of the rapid fire, are okay but even they can't make it feel natural. Most often it seems as if Clooney is the only one who knows what's going on and he's simply waiting for the other actors to stumble through their lines so he can deliver his. Watching "Leatherheads" sometimes feels like that time in high school when you were watching a friend's presentation and he was just going down in flames, but you couldn't say anything because he was your friend. So you hope for the best, smile like everything's okay and hope he can recover. It's awkward!

Thankfully, "Leatherheads" does recover --sort of. The last 20 minutes, when Krasinski and Clooney have their on-field showdown, is entertaining. It's just too bad it takes 2 hours of talking to get to that final act.

Also, and this could just be me, Krasinski might be the best actor in this film. Seriously. Other than the finale, the easiest part of the film to stomach is the flashback to the war when Krasinski is confessing to Zellweger what really happened. In fact, the few genuine laughs I had were thanks to Jim, excuse me, Krasinski. It isn't easy to steal scenes from Clooney and Zellweger, but Krasinski does so.

The stars were aligned nicely for "Leatherheads," but on its own, the movie mostly falls. I guess I read the skies wrong...

Unless the stars were aligning for "The Office"! Of course! Now it all makes sense.

• Read Carson's movie blog at www.juneaublogger.com/movies.

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