Reel Opinions

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Over the past couple years, the Disney Studio has stumbled upon a seemingly fool proof way to make money. They simply search the news archives for any sports story that could easily be molded into a crowd pleasing underdog story, buy the rights, bang out a screen story that leaves out any rough patches or acts of bad behavior the real life person in the story may have been a part of, release the film, and watch the money flow. It is a plan that has worked for a long string of similarly themed films including The Rookie, Remember the Titans, Miracle, The Greatest Game Ever Played, and Glory Road. Disney seems poised to cover just about every major sport, so I'm sure we'll eventually get to a point where we'll see the "inspirational true story" about some guy who lost his arm in a factory accident, but persevered against all odds, and went on to become a champion ping pong player despite his one-armed handicap. Until that movie arrives, we'll have to settle for their latest entry, Invincible - a by the numbers underdog story that does little to convince us the story needed to be told on the screen in the first place.

The most recent sports figure to be glorified by the Disney Studio is Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg). Vince is living in hard times. It's the mid 70s, and there are massive job strikes and unemployment the nation over. He's just lost his day job as a substitute teacher, and now only has his night time bar job to pay the increasing bills. Worst of all, his wife of five years recently moved out, taking everything they own with her, and only leaving a bitter note behind saying that he'll never amount to anything. When all hope seems lost, a miracle arrives in the form of the new coach of Vince's favorite football team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) has come up with a plan that he thinks will restore the fans' faith in the team after a lengthy losing streak. He will hold open try outs where anyone from off the street can try out for the Eagles training camp, and aim for a position on the team's final roster for the season. Vince is egged on by his friends at the bar to try out for the team, since they figure he has nothing to lose. To the surprise of the Coach and everyone at the try out, Vince ends up being the best of the hopefuls that day, despite the fact that he's never actually played in any professional game. Vince finally has a chance to prove his ex-wife and everyone else who has ever doubted him wrong by toughing it out through the team's grueling training camp.

For a movie that's supposed to be about Vince Papale, Invincible takes a pretty limited scope, focusing only on a couple months in the man's sport career. Since I do not follow football (or most professional sports, for that matter), I had never heard of the guy or of his story. Having seen the movie, I feel like I know about as much about the guy and his story than I did when I walked into the theater. We never truly get a sense of who Vince is, or why he stays so loyal to the Philadelphia Eagles, even though they seem to be the worst team in the world when he attends one of their games at the beginning of the movie. We never get a real sense to the turmoil in his relationship with the wife who winds up leaving him (she appears in one scene, asking when their lives are going to get better, then she's gone), or the true extent of his relationships with the people around him. The most we learn about Papale is that he likes to talk with the guys at the local bar about football, and diss the rival team, the New York Giants. We don't even get to see much of Papale's professional football career, which seems a bit odd considering it is the heart of the story. We get a lot of montages and scenes of him in training, the coach decides to give him a shot and put him on the team even though the other heads wanted to cut him, and then we only get to watch one real game of Papale's career before the end credits start to role. The story strangely seems to be beginning right when it ends. Even worse, we never get any sense about the relationship between Vince and his fellow teammates. We know they hate him for most of the movie, because he's an outsider and not a pro. Yet, during the big game climax, the team is supportive and nice toward him, despite the film never bothering to explain this change in heart of the entire Philadelphia Eagles.

Invincible tries to fill in the gaps with a love interest story where Vince begins to fall for a pretty young blonde who works at the bar (Elizabeth Banks). The subplot is supposed to represent him moving on with his life after the incident with his wife, but it is so underdeveloped that it barely even registers with the audience. The movie keeps on going back to this plot of the two shyly getting closer (she too is nervous about getting involved, as she also had a recent bad break up), but never bothers to develop the characters, keeping them emotionally distant. There's certainly nothing wrong with the actors playing the roles. Mark Wahlberg is a likeable everyman character who gets a shot at the big time, Elizabeth Banks is attractive and sweet in her performance, and despite being completely underdeveloped and underwritten, Greg Kinnear as the team's head coach gets a couple good scenes here and there when he's dealing with his supportive wife and kids. Despite the good performances, the movie never digs deep enough into anyone who enters the story. Everyone is kept at arm's length, and we seem to learn as little as possible about them, almost as if the movie is afraid to get to know them better. This is a major mistake when it comes to a bio-picture. Instead of the inspiring true life story that it strives to be, Invincible comes across as being about some cardboard cut out characters who like to hang out at a bar and play football all day.

The thing that ultimately winds up saving the day, and makes the movie worth watching at least once, is the overall look and style of the film. First time filmmaker Ericson Core has an obvious eye for detail, as every scene looks like a perfect representation of its time period. The clothes, the furnishings and the hair styles all have an appropriate look for the time, giving the film a time capsule feel. And thanks to the full cooperation of the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles team, everything looks authentic and real during the game scenes. The football sequences featured in the film are expertly filmed, fast-paced, exciting and fun to watch. It's a shame the movie has to keep on going back to that underdeveloped love story that the screenplay obviously cares little about when the football scenes are much more exciting. And as is to be expected, the movie features a soundtrack filled to the brim with a large variety of classic rock songs from the 60s and 70s that do a good job of fitting the mood of the present scene. The look of this film was obviously handled with great care. It's too bad the screenplay did not receive the same amount of effort.

While never offensive or unwatchable, Invincible proves to be far too slight to deserve the big screen treatment. It's almost comes across as a lot of time, talent and energy being wasted for nothing. Vince Papale's story of going from down on his luck blue collar everyman to professional sports player sounds like a can't miss idea for an inspirational sports movie. Yet, for some reason, the movie never quite bothers to get close enough to its own subject. I was actually surprised to find out that this was an authorized bio-movie, and that the real life Papale was actually there on the set. With how little the movie seems to know about him, it almost comes across as an unauthorized film. Official or not, Invincible hardly lives up to its name.

See the movie times in your area or buy the DVD at!



Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger