Leatherheads takes us back to 1925 when college football ruled while the allegedly professional players were mostly thugs who played drunk and thought nothing of brawling during regulation play. They were kind of like hockey players only without the sticks.
George Clooney, who also directed the picture, is Dodge Connolly, the over-the-hill captain of the Duluth Bulldogs, a rough and tumble team on the verge of bankruptcy. To increase the team’s popularity he recruits college ball’s most popular player, Princeton’s Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford (The Office’s John Krasinski). Carter isn’t just famous as a ball player, he’s also a war hero who apparently got a whole platoon of Germans to surrender. He the all-American hero, but one Chicago Tribune editor thinks his story is too good to be true and sends impish reporter Lexie “I’m not really the homemaker type” Littleton (Renee Zellweger) to “break the myth of the boy hero.”
As Lexie searches for her story, Carter and Connolly become rivals on the field and for Miss Littleton’s affection.
As a director Clooney nails the period and the conventions of screwball comedy. Taking a page or two from the playbooks of Howard Hawks, George Cukor and Frank Capra, the masters of the madcap genre, Clooney hits most of the right notes. He populates the movie with colorful characters in great looking clothes, sets up a love triangle and even throws in some farce. The movie looks great, touched with a beautiful nostalgic glow and the dialogue is snappy—it’s just too bad the pacing isn’t.
For all its attention to period detail and the splendor of the production design, Leatherheads falls flat, devoid of any of the free-for-all spirit of the rowdy brand of football that is the basis of the story. The cast hands in nice performances—Zellweger’s pouty lips are perfect for the period and Clooney has put away serious George in favor of the pratfalling goofy George—but they are often undone by scenes that last too long. Look up the definition of screwball comedies and you’ll see the word “snappy” used to describe both the pace and the dialogue. Clooney only got it half right.
Marketing wise Leatherheads should have had been a field goal. You have football for the guys and George Clooney for the gals, but despite Clooney’s obvious love for the genre it feels more like an incomplete pass.