Draft Day is a "ticking clock" thriller built around the NFL draft, a movie that counts down to the fateful decision that one embattled general manager (Kevin Costner) makes with his team's first-round pick.
It's a reasonably interesting — to NFL fans — peek behind the curtains at the wheeling, dealing and over-thinking that goes on as teams, managers and coaches try to avoid looking as if they don't know what they're doing. They're nagged into making hasty or ill-advised decisions by agents and the players they represent, and showboating owners who like to "make a splash."
The GMs have their own slang and swagger, a natural for Costner, for decades the go-to guy for jock roles.
For the casual fan or filmgoer, it can be a melodramatic bore. This ticking-clock thriller doesn't really get going until the teams are truly "on the clock."
Costner is Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager for the hapless Cleveland Browns. They have an antsy owner (Frank Langella) and a new, preening coach (Denis Leary) who likes to flash his Super Bowl ring. Will the team pick a cocky, pushy defensive back (Chadwick Boseman of 42) or trade up to land the Heisman winner (Josh Pence)?
What's fascinating in these wheeling-and-dealing early scenes is the way gossip gets started, the way the veteran GMs play one another and read one another. Rumors about the Heisman winner bubble to the surface.
Draft Day sets out to show how a Johnny Manziel or Jadaveon Clowney's stock rises and falls in the hours leading up to their big payday.
"You only get drafted once," Sonny tells his prospects. Better enjoy it.
Sonny gathers intel from his staff and steels himself to make a decision he knows the owner will not like. Then more gossip comes in, and he's on the fence, which gets the coach all worked up. Everybody is playing the angles against everybody else.
What doesn't work is the added melodrama in all this. Sonny's dad, who used to be the Browns' coach, just died. His mom (Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn) won't get off his back. And his not-that-secret inter-office romance (Jennifer Garner) just gave him some news.
Draft Day is an NFL- and ESPN-sanctioned dramedy designed to cash in on and maybe goose interest in the draft, which TV and the league have turned into a spring spectacle. It doesn't have a lot of rough edges, nothing unflattering to the league or the cable company in its back pocket, which only reminds us how this sport swallowed American sporting culture whole.
Costner and Garner are good, and Langella is properly menacing, but Leary has lost his fastball and seems to be holding something back in his quarrel scenes with Costner. Costner has to carry the film, which he does. But he has a hard a time making this tale of accountants and agents and athletes with off-field issues exciting.
Filling the screen with character players and assorted past and present NFL Network and ESPN stars, shifting from city to city as the phone calls zip back and forth doesn't really ratchet up suspense or entertainment value.
For the fans, it's a competent eye-opener, helping us understand Jets quarterback Geno Smith's fury at falling out of the first round and the sort of whispering campaigns that this closed culture of front-office folks mount to let them win in May, even if they don't win in the fall.