With the exception of his 1996 golf outing “Tin Cup,” Kevin Costner has always been a baseball kind of guy, given “Bull Durham” and “Field of Dreams” and even Sam Raimi’s comparatively forgettable “For Love of the Game.”
Costner acquits himself reasonably well in a football setting, however, in this wannabe nail-biter about behind-the-scenes machinations leading up to the NFL draft.
Costner plays Sonny Weaver, the embattled general manager of the Cleveland Browns. And “Draft Day,” which counts down the 13 hours remaining until the actual selections begin, is for Sonny a stressful one indeed. For starters, his supposedly secret girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner), who’s also a team exec, has announced that she’s pregnant. For another, Cleveland sports fans are unhappy with him because A) the Browns have been losing and B) Sonny fired his legendary-coach dad. Who has recently died, by the way, though that doesn’t seem to be bothering Sonny much.
For another, the team’s shades-wearing owner (Frank Langella) wants Sonny to use the team’s seventh-round draft choice for the kind of flashy player who will draw a crowd. Though Sonny has his eyes on Ohio State linebacker Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman of “42”) — not the sort of pick that would sell tickets. So, when Seattle Seahawks GM Tom Michaels (Patrick St. Esprit) offers him the chance to draft golden-boy, first-round quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence) in exchange for the Browns’ next three first-round picks, Sonny reluctantly agrees — even though his gut tells him Callahan might not be as good as he looks.
Director Ivan Reitman emphasizes the drama here as Sonny nurses his desire to build the Browns into a legacy dream team. And to instill an element of tension as the clock ticks and Sonny has his scouts make a meticulous, last-minute investigation into the golden boy’s past. Mainly by frequently resorting to a flashily distracting, triple split-screen effect.
Fortunately, Reitman handles most of the emotional material with a light touch. There are plenty of comic elements including Sonny’s head-butting relationship with the team’s obnoxious, Super Bowl ring-brandishing coach (Denis Leary) and a scurrying bunny-rabbit of an intern (Griffin Newman).
The real appeal, though, is the sort of insider perspective on a pro sports team that made “Moneyball” such a winner. Of course, “Moneyball” had the advantage of being about a seismic shift in the sport itself. While “Draft Day” is basically offering fans the chance to geek out on the process in advance of the actual draft that begins May 8. With some yuks and some warm, fuzzy emotion as a bonus.
It could be worse. Way worse. Instead of football, Costner could have decided to give curling a try.