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Review

Clooney’s football comedy ‘Leatherheads’ a nostalgic treat

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April 10, 2008

In the beginning the rules were simple: there weren’t any. More than just a punchy tagline, these words embody a credence for “Leatherheads;” a veritable code of ethics that a film steeped in romanticized longings for the past adheres to diligently and obediently.

It is no small hypocritical dose of irony than to say that a film that rests its laurels on sermons of rule-breaking abides by those same tattered conventions to a fault.

Dodge Connelly (George Clooney, in yet another turn that repeatedly uses his age as a punch line) wishes to take his lackluster 1920s pro football team, the Duluth Bulldogs, out of the mud slogged cow pen fields and into packed stadium arenas. 

Enter Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), straight-laced Princeton star athlete and national war hero, drafted to the Bulldogs in a vain attempt to translate his patriotic fan fare into gross ticket sales. But the team chemistry soon starts to dissolve as volatile vixen Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), a snub-nosed yellow journalist digging into the validity of Rutherford’s hero status, drives a carnal wedge between the two men, each of them passionately ensnared by her sharp-tongued voluptuous personality.

The film presents itself as romantic comedy, but never allows for a comfortable fit in either genre, bringing together elements of insincere amour with coerced slapstick, using as bonding agent rapid-fire salvos of witticism launched between Clooney and Zellweger. 

Romance—the sad truth is, there’s none. There is a spark of something, but I wouldn’t call it love, or even lust, between Dodge and Lexie. It is more the scintillating realization of finding an equal in each piercing exchange. Not quite impassioned lovers tangled in lustful interplay, they are more worthy combatants respectful of each other’s linguistic skill in articulated battle. 

As for the playtime between Lexie and Carter, forget about it. Zellweger dances the part of Black Widow well; not once will you actually believe she has any feelings for this pretty, dull boy wonder. Constantly aware of Lexie’s fangs dangled deplorably above Carter’s veins of naive inexperience, any sense of competition for affection between our duelist male opponents (being the advertised romantic driving force) is effectively erased.

The comedy is a little harder to draw a bead on. Clooney, who also directed the film, tosses the prose back and forth between high and low comedy, juggling incredibly funny, sometimes too quick-witted, humorous dialogue between hit-or-miss slapstick antics. The end result is akin to Woody Allen or Wes Anderson directing the Three Stooges.

Borrowing heavily from the visual flare of the Coen Bros., Clooney paints his “O Pigskin, Where Art Thou” in sepia-toned vibrations, giving it the soft-edged old-timing feel of a classic talkie.  Clooney raises himself as Cary Grant for the new millenia, Zellweger as Rosalind Russell, in this Capro-corn feel-gooder that should have been titled “His Girl Sunday.” 

It’s not that “Leatherheads” is a bad movie; it can be quite entertaining. But the problem is that while it never falters below expectations, it never dares to rise above them, either.

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.