Stuck in the past
Leatherheads is sweet, but unoriginal
George Clooney and Renée Zellweger have that classic look that makes them naturals for roles that transport them to back to the time of flappers and speakeasies. The look, the diction—"hey, sweetheart,” a la Humphrey Bogart—plus a vintage wardrobe and flashback soundtrack make Leatherheads the portrait of a ‘20s romantic comedy. And the story is so last century.
Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s just been done before—and better.
The story plays out like so many other sports movies (see Bull Durham). Clooney, who also directs, stars as Dodge Connelly, an aging pro football player in a baseball-loving world. Teams are folding left and right, but as captain of the Duluth Bulldogs, Dodge refuses to quit—even when the team’s sponsor pulls out, forcing him and the other guys to find day jobs.
Just as all hope seems to be lost, Dodge catches wind of a Princeton football game with 40,000 people in attendance. All the hubbub surrounds hotshot running back Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), who has a number of endorsement deals because of his status as a war hero. Dodge’s plan: woo Carter—and those 40,000 fans.
The plan goes through without a hitch, as Carter’s agent, CC Frazier (Jonathan Pryce) is in it for the paycheck, and Dodge has promised the pretty boy a pretty penny ($5,000 a game).
No romantic comedy would be complete without a foxy lady for the two leading men to fight over. Lexie Littleton (Zellweger) fills that role quite flawlessly. A newspaper reporter, Lexie is assigned to hit the road with the team and expose Carter as a fraud. She’s feisty and witty and even I’ll admit it, pretty hot in her ‘20s getup. For his part, Clooney ain’t half bad either.
Looking good, it turns out, is half the fun in Leatherheads. The sets are colorful, the characters are larger than life. And it all feels just like an old Cary Grant film, right down to the passionate but innocent kiss and somewhat silly—but romantic—shenanigans (barroom fights that turn into singalongs and elaborate schemes to rescue the woman they love, for example) that the men get into. Strangely enough, actual scenes of football are few and far between.
In some ways, the film is nostalgic for a simpler, sweeter age. In others it feels outdated—because it brings nothing new to the table.