Leatherheads

April 10, 2008

OUT: 11th April

Rapidly making a name for himself as both an actor and director of true class and skill, George Clooney diverts his attention from any political convictions for his new 20’s-lite comedy Leatherheads. And who can blame him for wanting to cavort about for a while and have some harmless fun? ME!

In the American 20’s Jimmy ‘Dodge’ Connelly’s (Clooney) struggling ‘football’ team (that’s not ‘soccer’) recruit star high school graduate Carter Rutherford (The American Office’s John Krasinski) to boost their fortunes and gate receipts. It works a treat, but when sassy journalist Lexie Littleton sets out to debunk Rutherford’s famed ‘war hero’ record, the future doesn’t look all that bright.

So clearly the priority here is pure entertainment. There’s virtually nothing in the way of morals, messages and character journey here- unless you include everybody’s dismay at the changing world of American football and the introduction of nit-picking rules and regulations (which I don’t because no one this side of the Atlantic gives a toss). So when this is the case the entertainment value must be top notch, a style to which Clooney is no stranger- think Ocean’s Eleven and O Brother Where Art Thou?- frenetic, glossy fun. But although we see the odd spark of crowd-pleasing, high-energy high jinx (the window jumping scene is a highlight), most of the film comes out nice and watchable whilst begging to be sharp and charming.

As always, the key to anything a romantic comedy is chemistry. And with a pairing like Clooney and Renee Zellweger, how could it possibly go wrong? Well, if Zellweger decides to leave her heart and brain at home, quite frankly. Lexie, the ice-queen of a character demands a steely precision and a boot-quaking wake of terror, but all Bridget Jones can offer is a subservient giggle and eternal eye-squinting.

Clooney tries hard to make something between them sizzle, but Zellweger’s always on hand with a bucket of cold water at any sign of sexual tension.

Krasinski makes a good fist of the Hollywood asshole, and the various supporting players, coaches, commentators and officials add some pleasing comedy touches.

Stilll one of the finest composers still working (albeit rarely) in the industry, Randy Newman’s score does a much better job of creating a period mood than any of the production design. There’s really little point in giving your film a historic setting if you don’t use it’s atmospheric trademarks to the full. The slapstick violence sequences are enjoyable but too few, and there’s something strange about the structure that makes it all feel far too long. The Jerry Maguire-esque climax is weak, satisfying only for the comeuppance of the always-on-form Jonathan Pryce as Rutherford’s slimy agent CC.     

All in all, if Clooney wants to make a lively romantic romp against a backdrop involving a rather crap sport, could he please make sure it actually delivers. While his able direction makes proceedings breezy and highly watchable for most mums, the film fails to make any sort of impact after you’ve left the building. Perhaps the inexplicably huge publicity tour built expectations way beyond the tame reality of Leatherheads, a drive which included Gorgeous George visiting not-so-gorgeous Gordon Brown to urge action on Darfur. The wily PM should have simply turned around and said:

 ‘Yeah, well you’re film’s a bit shit.’

THE CRUNCH

2.5 / 5  skulls crushed underfoot

 

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