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‘Draft Day’: A cast of pros executing great plays

ClevelBrowns general manager Sonny Weaver (KevCostner) hears from his salary-cap expert (Jennifer Garner) who also is his pregnant girlfriend sometimes

Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner) hears from his salary-cap expert (Jennifer Garner), who also is his pregnant girlfriend, in the sometimes implausible “Draft Day.” | SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT

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Sonny Weaver Jr. Kevin Costner

Ali Jennifer Garner

Coach Penn Denis Leary

Anthony Molina Frank Langella

Vontae Mae Chadwick Boseman

Summit Entertainment presents a film directed by Ivan Reitman and written by Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman. Running time: 110 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for brief strong language and sexual references). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: May 12, 2014 6:09AM

Sometimes my Pop Culture Radar doesn’t work for spit.

When I first heard about a TV show in which secondary celebrities would team up with professional instructors for a dancing competition, I thought that show would last about as long as “Cop Rock.” And when I learned Hollywood was going to turn the old “Transformers” cartoon/toy franchise into a movie, well, that seemed like a recipe for disaster.

Same thing with the NFL draft. I never understood the mentality of superfans who would don jerseys and face paint and spend hours in a cavernous arena, cheering or booing when the NFL commissioner announced who their favorite team was taking in the seventh round. Have an off-season, people. And I certainly never thought the NFL draft would provide material for a highly rated extravaganza on TV.

Now draft day is the basis for a feature film — a sentimental, predictable, sometimes implausible but thoroughly entertaining, old-fashioned piece.

Directed by the sure-handed Ivan Reitman and bolstered by breezy performances from Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner, “Draft Day” is a cornball “Moneyball,” one of those “all in one day” movies in which game- and life-changing decisions are made and fates are decided over a period of about 12 hours. (I always wonder what the characters do after one of these “all in one day” movies. Stay in bed, exhausted?)

Kevin Costner has a thing for Americana sports films, from “Bull Durham” to “Field of Dreams” to “For Love of the Game” (all baseball) to “Tin Cup” (golf). Now he moves from the playing field to the executive suite, playing Sonny Weaver, the beleaguered general manager of the hapless Cleveland Browns, who are coming off another losing season and in desperate need of some star power to energize the loyal, long-suffering fan base.

One of the things I like about this movie is it’s set in the real NFL (which means, of course, it’s going to be largely complimentary to the NFL way of life). This is not one of those football movies where teams have names like the Chicago Stallions and the Los Angeles Warriors, and they’re all playing in the “North American Football League.” Sonny wheels and deals with the Seahawks and the Broncos in a parallel NFL universe. (Seattle’s fans are restless and the coach is under siege. Obviously “Draft Day” was filmed before the most recent Super Bowl.)

Costner looks, sounds and talks like a general manager as he deals with the most crowded agenda any GM has ever faced on Draft Day. Ready?

† Sonny’s legendary father, whom he fired as coach of the Browns, died just days ago.

† Sonny’s salary-cap expert, Ali I-Don’t-Think-We-Ever-Learn-Her-Last-Name (Jennifer Garner), is also his girlfriend, and she’s just told him she’s pregnant with their child.

† The egotistical owner of the Browns, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), tells Sonny he better have a great draft day, or he could be gone.

† Sonny’s not a fan of the Browns’ new coach (Denis Leary), who comes from Dallas flashing his Super Bowl ring in everyone’s face.

† People keep trashing Sonny’s office. For a variety of reasons.

Oh, and there’s a new, bumbling intern, who seems to have wandered onto the wrong set. Shouldn’t he be in an uninspired sitcom somewhere?

Sonny has to deal with all these subplots and a few more while also maneuvering to move up to the No. 1 spot in the draft, which would mean he can grab the can’t-miss QB out of Wisconsin everyone is touting. Meanwhile, his coach wants him to take a talented running back from Florida State with a violent incident blotting his resume, while a linebacker from Ohio State is campaigning to join the Browns.

Chadwick Boseman, who was Jackie Robinson in “42,” plays Vontae Mack, the LB from OSU. It’s a strong performance in a role with echoes of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s work in “Jerry Maguire.” Real-life Houston Texans NFL star Arian Foster plays the RB from FSU, and he does just fine in a limited role.

This is the kind of movie where familiar faces pop in and out for a quick scene or two. Ellen Burstyn (and how did she get to be 81?) plays Sonny’s tough-as-nails mom. Rosanna Arquette is Sonny’s ex, who remains pals with Sonny’s mom, for reasons never explained. Chi McBride is the GM of the Seahawks. Sports figures such as Roger Goodell, Jon Gruden, Deion Sanders and Mel Kiper play themselves.

Not that “Draft Day” always smacks of authenticity. Some of Sonny’s moves would probably get him fired on the spot. The “war room” scenes are sometimes overplayed. And I would have liked to see less soap-opera subplot and more inside football machinations.

But it works for what it wants to be: a human drama sprinkled with a number of laughs, all set against the backdrop of a day that has inexplicably become big entertainment. You know the NFL is clearly the most popular game in the country when there’s a movie about the process of selecting players.

I can’t wait for “Scouting Combine: The Movie.”


Twitter: @richardroeper

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