"Draft Day" Movie Is Fantasy Football — And Misses The Real Drama Of The Draft
Sports is the only Reality TV.
Unlike the manufactured unreality of the so-called reality shows, the drama in sports is entirely real, unfolding unscripted every day, all in front of a live audience. The stakes are real, the emotions are real. And the connections that fans feel with the characters they follow and attach to season after season are undeniably real.
Which explains why Hollywood has such trouble creating sports movies that approach the real experience. Invariably, they lapse into cliched characterizations and implausible situations. Real sports never jumps the shark; Hollywood sports rarely clears it.
That's what is so frustrating about a movie like "Draft Day," which I saw on Friday afternoon -- its Opening Day -- with about 12 other people in the theater, all of whom looked suspiciously like the same guys who line up early to claim a seat in the gallery on the real Draft Day. The amiable movie tries its best to portray real football and falls short, like the Falcons in their final drive against the 49ers in the 2013 NFC title game.
I'm not talking about the liberties "Draft Day" takes with reality. I'm okay -- really okay -- with the notion of a capologist looking more like Jennifer Garner than Mike Tannebaum. I can even live with the premise that a general manager and a capologist are engaging in an act that provides a euphemism for what too many capologists do to their team's salary cap. That said, the chemistry between Kevin Costner and Garner has none of the heat he shared with Susan Sarandon in "Bull Durham," the kookiness he shared with Amy Madigan in "Field of Dreams" or the mutual dysfunction shared with Rene Russo in "Tin Cup" (or even the true love and respect he shared with Cheech Marin in that same film) and remains a major shortcoming of "Draft Day" as a movie.
My bigger issue is in the failed attempts to root "Draft Day" in a real NFL draft day setting. Yes, the footage from Radio City was shot during the 2013 NFL Draft, so in some respects, there is actual reality in there. Plus, Mike Mayock and Rich Eisen and Deion Sanders appear as themselves, though their lines are as contrived as a Johnny Manziel Pro Day.
But when Chris Berman's voice is the first thing you hear, you know what you're in for: A show. Berman is a real person who has been playing the caricature "Boomer" on "Sunday NFL Countdown" (the same character he plays in those Applebee's commercials) for more than a decade. Likewise, "Draft Day" reveals itself from the start to be an imposter, which intends to go . . . all . . . the . . . way in its efforts to convince you that you're surrounded by REAL FOOTBALL.
All the NFL logos are real, as are the perfectly framed logos of NFL corporate sponsors. To be fair, the marketing of the NFL is about the most dead-on real part of "Draft Day."
But the rest of the purported reality, I suspect, will leave real football fans feeling real frustration (a reaction that is all too real for most fans on real draft day).
I can overlook continuity mistakes, like promoting the potential first pick of the 2014 NFL Draft as the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner (the 2014 Heisman will be awarded seven months after the draft) or the fact that Trent Richardson's name can be seen above his locker, though he was traded out of Cleveland in 2013.
What I cannot condone is the litany of completely unreal moments passed off as the real deal:
* Can you imagine a general manager of an NFL team ever asking out loud on draft day, "Who's picking fourth?" That's unthinkable, even in Cleveland.
* Moments later, Costner asks the name of the Jaguars' new general manager. I can undertand people outside of Jacksonville not knowing, or caring, about the Jaguars' front office, but you have to think one NFL G.M. would know the names of his 31 peers.
* That a middle linebacker even would be considered as a top overall pick (hasn't happened in my lifetime) or that a coach in this day and age would be looking to spend the No. 7 pick on a running back is ludicrous. This is supposed to be set in 2014, right?
* The prospect of trading three consecutive second-round picks for the sixth overall pick actually isn't the fleecing it's portrayed to be. Anyone within Googling range of a Trade Value Chart knows that's only one late-round third in return of being a wash.
Mistakes like these kept smacking me in the face with the one painful reality I could not escape -- this version of Draft Day isn't as compelling as the real one we enjoy every year. I was in the theater when Donovan McNabb was booed. I was there when Warren Sapp slipped down to 12, amid a swirl of nefarious rumors. I was in the photographer's scrum in front of the podium when Peyton Manning -- not Ryan Leaf -- was announced as the first overall pick of the 1998 draft (which was not a foregone conclusion heading up to the actual submission of the card from the Colts).
The NFL Draft is entirely about drama and mystery. It's not a Who Dunnit but more of a What're They Gonna Do Here parlor game. There's real suspense, real intrigue, real stakes for real people.
That's where this "Draft Day" is a bit of a bust. No one in the film feels real. There's a lot of footbally-sounding jargon, delivered about as naturally as a Tim Tebow throw.
There's only one true flurry of war room activity. Had the filmmakers focused on that, they could have captured the actual intensity and stress of a draft day experience. Instead, they felt the need to inject real world meldorama into the lives of Costner's and Garner's characters, a clear admission that they knew they couldn't do justice to what should be the source of the real drama: the unfolding NFL Draft itself.
In the end, you have a movie that was not of the NFL but near it, a vehicle created to ride the Shield's coat tails without ruffling any feathers. You wind up with the story of a draft day in which you don't see a draft board anywhere, one spent by an NFL GM wandering the halls of the complex instead of sequestered in the war room with his staff, the way Bill Parcells used to do it.
Without spoiling what happens at the end of this faux "Draft Day," you should know that the big day culminates with a presentation more party than press conference. And then Costner and Garner, exhausted from their draining day, walk off, ostensibly to begin the rest of the lives and prepare for the season to come.
That's another big whiff. In reality, there is no such thing as Draft Day. It's a three-day event. After the gut-wringing first night is wrapped, the GM and the coaching staff and the scouts -- even the sweetest-smiled capologist -- all go back to the board and prepare for the six rounds that remain. They don't walk off into the sunset.
Then again, the ending might provide the most real moment of the entire story. When "Draft Day" is done and the characters all get what they wanted (the hero gets the girl and the coach gets his team and the owner gets his splash and the new intern gets a new laptop), we are left with the most real of dramatic resolutions: the Cleveland Browns still don't have a quarterback.
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