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Can someone explain to me why studios repetitively put out the same tripe, over and over again, with the hopes that people are going to flock to it? Leatherheads has an up-and- coming television star, two Academy Award winners, and a romantic story. So what could possibly go wrong? In short, everything. It's a film that made $31 million (about $30 million too much), was generally panned by most critics, with a story that was years in the making, which traditionally is the first big sign of trouble, as this film's script has been out in the entertainment blood flow for over a decade now. Shouldn't that have been the first sign of caution for everybody involved?
The film was written by (or to be exact, a producer on the film says the "credited screenwriters" are) Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly. Yes, THAT Rick Reilly, who might be recognizable to sports fans as a longtime columnist for Sports Illustrated, who recently moved over to ESPN. I guess you can't turn letters from readers into a ninety-minute script or something. But for some inexplicable reason, Clooney wrote a draft of the film, which got some studio interest, and decided to direct the film as well. Oh yeah, he also stars in the film as Dodge Connelly, an aging pro football player whose team is dissolving, and he wants to look for a way to keep it (and the league) afloat in 1925. He sees that there is a highly successful college football player and war hero in Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski, The Office), and decides to propose an offer to Carter: take leave of Princeton, where he currently plays, and play pro for one year with a huge salary. Carter decides to take the offer through his agent CC (Jonathan Pryce, Glengarry Glen Ross), and an enterprising reporter named Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger, Chicago) decides to tag along for the ride, because she wants the story behind Carter's war exploits.
That's all fine and good, but that's approximately 20 minutes in the movie, and the film runs for two hours, as we watch Zellweger, who looks notably disinterested for most of the feature, waver back and forth between feelings for Dodge and trying to get the story from Carter, who also discovers some blossoming feelings for her too. Carter is a genuinely nice guy who helps turn around the fortunes for Dodge and his team the Duluth Bulldogs as they start to win more games, and this nice guy visage is tarnished a bit when the truth about his war heroics come out. Clooney says in the supplemental material that his inspiration for this was the attacks on Senator John Kerry during the 2004 Presidential Election, though all this really does for Krasinski is that it takes the goodwill that he's built up as one of the co-stars of the hit show The Office and has him take a bit of a hit. I don't mean in the sense that Carter/Krasinski is a deplorable character, but the main storyline seems to be the flirting relationship that Dodge and Lexie develop, which is full of the same type of quick dialogue that is a tribute to older-era films like Philadelphia Story. However in this film, Clooney is far from Cary Grant, as he seems to be repeating mannerisms from Out of Sight and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and while she might be a nice person, Zellweger is no Hepburn.
What about Clooney the director, who's managed to turn in excellent turns in his first two films (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck)? Well, he's much more enamored of the period than perhaps he probably should be. There are many montages of still photos, which are supposed to help show the passing of time and transpiring of events related to the film, but they seem self-indulgent and help drag the pacing of the film to an absolute crawl. The quirky humor that the film purports to have includes jokes and plot points that are wholly predictable and are executed as such without any real desire or enthusiasm. I'd at least have more respect for Leatherheads if it were 90 minutes in length and more transparent in character motivations; at least more people would have been persuaded to try and make something out of nothing. Instead, we get people who deliver the material in a way that mirrors the screenplay; lackluster and without any real care. So if they didn't care making the film all that much, should I really care that much, or more so, in watching it?The Blu-ray Disc:
The 1.85:1 widescreen presentation uses the VC-1 encode and looks very good. You can spot quite a bit of depth in the image, and the Midwest background exteriors (most of which are North and South Carolina) possess vivid colors, and you can point out individual leaves in many scenes. Along with all of that, the foreground images are clear as a bell and possess quite a bit of fine detail in the fabrics worn by the characters, along with Clooney's facial pores. Blacks are deep and provide a nice contrast, and the blues in some of the football uniforms really stand out in the sports sequences. There are some scenes that are a little on the soft side when it comes to detail, but overall, Leatherheads is another solid presentation from Universal.Sound:
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack option provides for solid entertainment, though it was a little bit unnecessary for this particular production. Don't get me wrong, the football sequences are solid, with some of the action bringing some subwoofer engagements (the occasional kick or hard tackle for instance), and there are some directional crowd effects in the rear speakers, which make for a subtly immersive experience. It's when the action moves away from the field where things are a little on the boring side. Dialogue doesn't waver from the center channel, but the levels are a little uneven and require some user adjustments from time to time. While these sequences are a little inconsistent, the overall feature is solid and quite enjoyable.Extras:
The big extra to speak of is the U-Control, which appears to have taken some of the standard definition material and put it together for this track. There are loads of interviews with the cast, as they share their thoughts on Clooney the director, while Clooney the director talks about some of the production challenges and information. Some of the crewmembers discuss their specific roles in the project, and the technical advisors talk about how tough it was playing 1925 football. Randy Newman (who composed the film's score) discusses how he put the music together as well, and along with all of this stuff, there's a visual commentary with Clooney and Producer Grant Heslov (Good Night, and Good Luck). This commentary is visually recorded, but you see a fraction of it, for whatever reason. The audio copy is an additional extra on the disc, but at the end of the day, there's not a lot of worthwhile information that either party brings to the dance. They discuss the difficulty in being strict to the era, and Clooney seems to joke at some slightly "inside" material. There's a lot of scene-identifying of what is computer enhanced, and a lot of extended periods of the film have the two watching it, so if anything this is a little goofy and slightly more boring than anything else.Final Thoughts:
On the surface, Leatherheads looks like a fairly predictable story with characters that might have been good in these roles as recently as three years ago, even if the screenplay is forgettable. Upon further review...well, there's not much more to gain, is there? The disc sure looks and sound nice, but if I want to see a romantic comedy with a big name or two, I certainly wouldn't include Leatherheads on the first, second or even third glances. I'd pass on this one with prejudice.