Slapstick meets screwball in "Leatherheads," an amiable valentine to an era of breakneck repartee, bathtub booze and anything-goes gridiron warfare.
The setting is 1925 Duluth, Minn., home base of the Bulldogs, a rough-and-ready pro football team in an era when pay was low, glamour was nil and rulebooks were rarely consulted. The only audience at the Bulldogs' practice field is a bemused cow, and the turnout for their games is scarcely larger or more enthusiastic.
Dodge Connolly (George Clooney), the team's irrepressible quarterback and manager, boosts the game's entertainment value with bizarre plays like the Rin Tin Tin: The left wide receiver howls like a scalded hound while you snap the ball right.
Still, the crowds are thin, and the team is so cash-strapped that the players shower in their uniforms to save laundry fees. When Princeton football star Carter "'The Bullet"' Rutherford (John Krasinski) plays his final college game, Dodge entices him to join the teetering Bulldogs for a percentage of the gate, promoting him as the sport's first superstar.
Following Rutherford is Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger), a feisty Chicago Tribune reporter ostensibly covering "The Bullet's" career, but actually investigating his story of battlefield heroism. Soon, the Ivy League golden boy and the aging roustabout are romantic rivals for Lexie's heart.
Clooney radiates rakish charm, making himself the butt of jokes about his advancing age and including a comic stunt that echoes his recent motorcycle accident. And those endless comparisons to Cary Grant are deserved. Look at the way he uses his eyes in the scene when he first catches sight of Zellweger in a hotel lobby. They have a great rapport; their sharp-tongued comic banter feels effortless.
Krasinski is solid as a straight arrow with troubling memories, although he never measures up as serious romantic competition.
"Leatherheads" is Clooney's third outing as a director, and he co-wrote the film. He's unabashed in his affection for period Americana and old-school filmmaking and re-creates it with impressive technical polish.
Still, Clooney missed one crucial lesson from 1930s comedies: Keep it short. At an hour and 54 minutes, the film often lopes when it should race, with dead-weight scenes and extraneous subplots.
Drawing from movies rather than life, "Leatherheads" often feels like a likable exercise in retro style rather than a film with a compelling reason to exist on its own.
Rated PG-13: Brief language
Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Playing at: Brenden,
Galaxy, Marketplace, Merced Mainplace, Modesto Regal, Sonora Regal, Turlock Regal
To cast your own review of this film, go to modbee.com/movies.