It shouldn’t surprise you to see both Renee Zellweger and George Clooney in Leatherheads, a hammed up period piece that is as light and fluffy as its upbeat soundtrack, as we have seen them both here before. Zellweger, who seems right at home as a stylish lady of the 1920s, has been seen in Down with Love, to which Leatherheads bares a strange resemblance. As well, Mr. Clooney starred in the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which also combined and old timey soundtrack with some overblown, yet fun loving characters. And while this new film bears resemblance to both previous works, it differs in the fact that it ultimately falls victim to the classic fault of trying to do too much with an otherwise simple premise.
The film starts with a bang, a rousing scene that introduces us to Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford, played by John Krasinski (“The Office”), a young college football star, war hero and poster-boy for just about every product under the sun. We soon learn though, that the war hero part isn’t quite as true as the football star part, and the Chicago Tribune has sent Lexie Littleton (Zellweger), their top reporter to crack the story wide open, exposing America’s golden boy as nothing but a big phony. But before Lexie can lay down her patented charm on Carter, he is swept away by an aging, opportunistic pro football player named Dodge Connelly (Clooney). In a desperate attempt to save the ailing, rag-tag existence of pro football, Connelly recruits Rutherford to come play in the big leagues, giving them a much needed icon for an otherwise dead-in-the-water league. As you can imagine, Lexie gets caught in between these two good-lookin’ footballers, which could spell trouble – if you know what I mean.
As you can see (and as I explained above), Leatherheads comes flying out of the gate with a blitz of flair and panache set to an upbeat, enchanting score from the legendary Randy Newman. All at once, this alluring cast, lead by the director himself George Clooney, draws us into this vivacious world of the 1920s – its enough to put a little swing in your step. As I mentioned before, Renee Zellweger seems right at home, as does Clooney – she being the beautiful, whip-smart women who was a rare breed in the 20s and he being the charming, gritty and somewhat manipulative survivalist that we believe existed as well. On top of that, John Krasinski delivers as the awkward, slyly confident golden boy Carter who isn’t as unassuming as he would lead you to believe. All-in-all, it is the cast and the way that director Clooney pieces together the first half of the film that make this an engaging, exciting experience.
But unfortunately, with all of the goings-on in this film, it becomes very difficult to keep the pace, and somewhere around the 2/3 mark, Leatherheads goes from fun and peppy to a state of meandering through the countless themes and story lines built up in the rush of the first 30 minutes. The war hero and his sordid past, the ostentatious woman trying to make it in a man’s world, the over-the-hill football player still clinging to the way things were and the game of pro football itself, forced into a state of legitimacy and maturity; all of these story lines must be reeled in and shut down in a clean manner, which ultimately leads to a drawn-out, muddled final act that will bring more yawns than laughs, completely balancing out the rush that was the beginning of the film.
Yet despite the flaws in the way the film ties up its many storylines, it does deliver on the premise of being a potentially fun date movie for both sides – that is, if you go in with the right mindset. This is not a football movie. Sure, there is football, but this is no Friday Night Lights or Varsity Blues. You have to think of Leatherheads more as Down with Love, but with football instead of feminist activism, which is a trade I think any guy would happily make. So if you are hard-up for a date movie and your sweetie doesn’t want to go see The Ruins this weekend, you might have to settle on Leatherheads – and who knows, you might just have a little bit of fun along the way.