Movie News & Reviews

Clooney on the right track with "Leatherheads"

If anyone ever tells you life is boring or predictable, you tell them fifteen years ago George Clooney had nipples on his Batman suit, and today he's one of the heroes of the film world.

Man, if some pretty-boy chump can turn himself into a cinematic ultra-king before he's lost his dashing good looks, then the lovechild of Nostradamus and Miss Cleo couldn't predict what's going to happen tomorrow. I can say with great certainty I won't get up before noon unless it's to beat the ass of whoever woke me up before then, but after that, it's all up in the air. Even that's a pretty bad prediction; in truth, there would be a lot fewer beatings and a lot more dazed glaring.

So while Leatherheads didn't look like it would immediately appeal to my interests--no undead, no 500-foot robots, and while there might be fedoras, the guys wearing them probably wouldn't be carryingrevolvers--the Clooney factor was enough to raise the eyebrow. Now if only he would return my calls.

In 1925, George Clooney is a pro football player, which means he and his teammates take trains to exotic locations like Decatur, Illinois to play in front of several hundred fans--if the home team hasn't folded up before they get there.

College football is another story. John Krasinski, WWI hero and college ball's biggest star, plays in front of 40,000 fans every week. His lieutenant, however, tells a different story about Krasinski's "heroism." Brassy, acid-tongued reporter Renee Zellweger is dispatched to expose the shameful truth.

But Clooney's team has gone broke and it looks like the rest of the league will be soon to follow. To save pro football, he gets Krasinski to join his team and be the sport's public face. He draws huge crowds, but with Krasinski and Clooney both falling for Zellweger as she's torn between falling for Krasinski and destroying him, that can only mean one thing: pro football was never heard from again.

Wait. Rather, it means there's a lot of crisp banter and chaotic escapades. Clooney directed Leatherheads as well, and though it couldn't be much different from Good Night and Good Luck, his other picture, what they share is an energy that makes whatever's happening on screen a pleasure to watch.

Of course it helps to have such a strong comedic lead like, uh, himself, and able writing by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly. The movie makes good use of its setting, too, though if the 1920s were really as great as every film ever set there would have us to believe, I say we save all the money we could have spent making movies and instead hire Superman to spin the earth back 80 years so we can all enjoy the paradise of bathtub gin and easily-outwitted police. Just like the first time we lived through them, the good times will never end.

But it's not all hilarity and bar-brawls in Leatherheads-land. A big chunk of its finale depends on a waving prick of a league commissioner whose anti-Clooney stance seems motivated by nothing more than a need to up the drama. Also, the fact legitimizing football will mean the end of its cheeky on-field antics isn't all that sad when we never saw all that many of them to begin with.

That's not a big knock against it. A third-act stumble can't undo Leatherheads' lively wit or its gleeful anarchy or the charm of its Clooney-Zellweger-Krasinski triangle. It's almost a throwback, a screwball romance rather than a modern cutemonster romantic comedy. Clooney isn't yet a national treasure, but I don't think he's too far off.

Grade: B