Movie review

Costner moves from field to front office for 'Draft Day'

Everyone in Steelers Nation -- or the nation -- will understand the assessment of a prospective draft pick shown in some game footage: "That's pure Roethlisberger." The kid is NFL ready.

And that is pretty much it for Steelers references in "Draft Day," a slickly produced dramedy starring Kevin Costner as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns.

The movie, from director Ivan Reitman, tracks one pressure-packed day in the life of Sonny Weaver Jr. (Mr. Costner) as he tries to assemble his dream team and not get fired, copes with some surprising personal news and grieves for his father. Throw in his opinionated mother and an ex-wife and you've got a veritable 12-hour stress test.

'Draft Day'

Starring: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Ellen Burstyn.

Rating: PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language and sexual references.

The day starts with a call to Sonny from his Seattle Seahawks counterpart: "I have the golden ticket, Sonny. If I give it to you, you get to save football in Cleveland." In fiction, as in fact, Cleveland needs a Hail Mary pass or maybe an Immaculate Reception.

This ticket is far from free, but it might be a sweet deal -- the chance to land the expected No. 1 draft pick, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence) from the University of Wisconsin.

Until now, Sonny has had his eye on Ohio State University linebacker Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman from "42"), not to mention Ray Jennings (real-life Houston running back Arian Foster), whose father was a Browns legend.

Draft day will have ripple effects for everyone from the current Browns quarterback (Tom Welling) to the caustic coach (Denis Leary) who sees his draft analysis going up in flames -- literally -- and the team owner (Frank Langella).

"Draft Day," penned by playwright and Cleveland native Rajiv Joseph and screenwriter Scott Rothman, is designed to appeal to moviegoers who follow Mel Kiper on Twitter and those who see Radio City Music Hall and think Rockette high kicks, not high picks.

Even casual fans will recognize some of the famous faces, including NFL Commissioner Roger S. Goodell, Jim Brown, Bernie Kosar and Ray Lewis, all as themselves. Mike Florio, who created the website ProFootballTalk, appears, too, while Sean Combs turns up as an agent.

The production gained permission to shoot during the actual 2013 draft in New York. So the set is exactly as it appeared at the time, and even the team player representatives at the tables in the front of the auditorium are real. Sure, but how's the movie?

Pretty entertaining, thanks to the solid cast that also includes Jennifer Garner as the team's salary cap manager and Sonny's secret girlfriend, and Ellen Burstyn as Sonny's recently widowed mother. And look for third-grader Sophie Guest of Ben Avon in a small role as the daughter of Mr. Welling's QB.

Mr. Costner is obviously no stranger to sports movies, and he easily makes the transition from field to front office. He looks like a onetime jock or a confident GM who would have no problem declaring he has to think of the team, not the athlete standing in front of him.

The topical script includes references to tweets, the belief that "defense doesn't sell tickets" and the potential for rejoicing or embarrassment, depending on the round when a player is picked.

The fumble in the script is having the women in Sonny's life share news or stage events on draft day. Even the football-phobic would know that is not the time for life-changing announcements or somber remembrance.

Mr. Reitman, already working with a ticking clock, builds surprises and suspense into the process, as Sonny dickers and deals with other teams, plays the draft like a three-dimensional chess game and weighs talent, character and cost now and down the road.

"Draft Day" asks are you ready for some football? Even if it is (gulp) the Cleveland Browns.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:

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