Kevin Costner as Sonny Weaver, Jr.
Jennifer Garner as Ali
Frank Langella as Harvey Molina
Denis Leary as Vince Penn
Chadwick Boseman as Vontae Mack
Josh Pence as Bo Callahan
Sean Combs as Chris Crawford
Ellen Burstyn as Barb Weaver
Rosanna Arquette as Angie
Terry Crews as Earl Jennings
Arian Foster as Ray Jennings
Tom Welling as Brian Drew
Sam Elliott as Coach Moore
Chi McBride as Walt
Kevin Dunn as Marvin
Directed by Ivan Reitman
I will confess up front I don’t get draft day. I get the importance of the draft itself, I just don’t get treating it as a spectator sport of its own right down to buying seats at Radio City Music Hall to watch it happen – unless you actually own one of the teams, in which case I’d hope the seat was provided for you. Fortunately, “Draft Day” doesn’t have too much to do with the draft; just with what happens on the day of it.
Which is quite a lot, as it turns out, and not all of it having to do with football. Just ask Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver (Costner), who is simultaneously dealing with trading for the number one draft pick in order to keep his job, the head coach (Leary) who hates him for it, the recent death of his father, and the news from his girlfriend (Garner) that he’s getting ready to be a first-time father.
It’s not a bad idea for a comedy or a drama and veteran director Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”) brings the two halves together in a harmless bit of fun that never quite manages to materialize the tension and stress of the big day, no matter how many rocks he piles on Sonny’s back. Not that it doesn’t try, stacking on an increasingly frantic series of unending phone calls from and meetings with players, agents, reporters and other managers which are part and parcel of draft day… and even more so when the best young quarterback in college is burning a hole in Sonny’s pocket. Just in case that isn’t enough stress for the day, every potential personal crisis the writers could plausibly add (and more than a few implausible ones) have been thrown into the mix, yet somehow it never quite hits the never-come-up-for-air pace it seems to be aiming for.
That could be that panic is simply not in Costner’s wheelhouse: he approaches every new hiccup with the same laidback, sad-eyed delivery – it’s hard to imagine anything really gets under his skin. Then again, except for Sonny’s new intern of Chadwick Boseman’s hilariously real defensive prospect, no one else seems particularly put-out by these supposedly life changing events or reactive to the pressure cooker they’re supposed to be living in. Even Leary’s classic acid-spitting ranter seems to be on a hefty prescription of Xoloft, but maybe it’s for the best. The few occasions where someone does get rabidly over the top, it tends to hit its falsest notes as the implausibility of events overtakes any help they could be to the characters. This is particularly true when Sonny’s mother, played by Ellen Burstyn, decides that draft day is the perfect time to spread his father’s ashes.
And the characters need all the help they can get. The complicated machinations surrounding who will get which pick when are such that Reitman and his writers need to spend considerable time on the plot to make certain the audience is going in the same direction they are. That leaves little time for the more internal discussion their characters need to make which amount to little more than a neverending series of phone calls, which are very difficult to make either dramatic or funny.
Reitman takes his best shot at it, however, and if it never hits any high points it also has few low ones, spending most of its time in a harmless middle ground of mild conflict and milder chuckles. Things do pick up towards the end as the draft gets going for real and Sonny and his team have to start making decisions and living with them, but it definitely edges towards the “too late” end of the spectrum. None of which is a particular bad way to spend two hours, but it isn’t a particularly good one either.
As long as you don’t expect too much out of it (or put too much into it), “Draft Day” will give you exactly what you expect out of it, but not much more.