In the fickle world of Hollywood, George Clooney is truly an all-star celebrity. Guys love him because he’s a wiseass, a sports fan, a man’s man, and a perpetual bachelor. Women love him because he’s a charmer, a looker, a comic, and, well, a perpetual bachelor. In that way, it makes sense that if anyone were going to pull off the cinematic trifecta of the romantic-comedy-meets-sports-flick-meets-period-piece, that person would be George. Sadly, even everyone’s favorite movie star (and director, and producer) can’t save Leatherheads.
Promising in theory, Clooney’s tribute to the early days of pro football looks more like an artfully minded comedic romp ( la Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?) than the mushy love story it turns out to be. Here, Renee Zellweger plays the young, smart-tongued ace reporter Lexie Littleton to Clooney’s aging, smart-tongued footballer Dodge Connelly. The trouble starts in 1925 when Connelly’s ragtag team of “pros,” the Duluth Bulldogs, gets shut down. As the entire professional league crumbles, Connelly makes a play for college all-star-and WW I hero-Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski). With football’s golden boy at their side, the Bulldogs regroup, hit the field, and start cashing in-but not without issues. While Littleton sets out to debunk Rutherford’s war hero shtick, Connelly gets lost in the youngster’s shadow. All the while the two men fight over the leggy reporter’s affection.
The problem with Leatherheads is simply that the script tries to do too much and fails at really shining at any one thing. In theory, Clooney and Krasinski play adversaries, but neither is cast as the antagonist. Instead, we get a sweet-faced, conflicted youngster facing off against a graying goof-up with a heart of gold, leaving the audience to feel bad no matter whom they choose to root for. Meanwhile, Zellweger is relegated to a role where she talks tough and acts like an emotionally unstable teenager, falling for both hunks simultaneously-and nearly losing her job-before coming to her senses : sort of.
Since stepping behind the camera, Clooney has given us some startling, awe-inspiring period pictures (Good Night and Good Luck, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind). Here, the costuming, cinematography, and music help to hold Leatherheads together, but end up playing a bigger role than they should, leaving us with a picturesque romantic comedy for the guys that fizzles, and a chuckle-worthy sports comedy for the ladies that fumbles.