Monday, June 23, 2008

Leatherheads (2008)

George Clooney's LEATHERHEADS falls into the same category as fun films like THE IMPOSTERS and (very specifically) THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, recalling the (largely forgotten) screwball comedies of the 30's and 40's. And while it doesn't reach the dizzying heights of those films made famous by the likes of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, it gets a lot right, and comes off as a refreshingly pleasant comedy, a nice alternative to the glut of Apatow-influenced movies that have been playing as of late.

Not that there's anything wrong with those comedies. But with seemingly six such films coming a month, something that plays by an older set of rules feels like a breath of fresh air. And 90% of this credit should go to Clooney, who knows how to milk comedy out of ordinary moments without having to always play it over the top. The opening scene is fantastic and, as noted elsewhere, probably displays the finest cow acting outside of TOP SECRET! I've ever seen. As Dodge Connolly, the star of the Duluth Bulldogs, a professional football in 1925 that's in danger of going under, Clooney gets to play the Cary Grant role to the hilt, complete with the snazzy one-liners and the wonderful facial expressions, especially during any scene involving getting punched or tackled.

Both John Krasinski and Renee Zellwegger as the other two thirds of the obligatory love trinagle work their roles well. Krasinski in particular uses the boyish charm from The Office to great effect in a role that changes over the course of the movie. Zellwegger stays away from the obvious tough girl reporter imitation that Jennifer Jason Leigh used in HUDSUCKER and instead just plays it straight with a hint of sarcasm and confidence. But the real joy is in the supporting cast, made up of Coen Brother alumni like Stephen Roont (great in every role he takes) as the drunk reporter and Wayne Duvall as the coach of the Bulldogs. Clooney obviously learned a lot from his time with the Coens, and LEATHERHEADS benefits by wisely giving many of the best moments to the supporting cast instead of completely focusing on the stars.

The football scenes are played for laughs, not authenticity, so if you're looking for a fond, historical view of how football worked in the early days, this probably isn't going to do it for you. Most of the funny moments are in the trailer, but there's enough left to provide some good laughs and surprises, especially with the pivotal final game that manages to tie everything up in a neat little package.

It may seem like an odd fit for Clooney following on the heels of both GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK and MICHAEL CLAYTON, but as a throwback to the movies I grew up on LEATHERHEADS was a nice afternoon date with my wife.

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