An old-fashioned screwball comedy directed by (and starring) George Clooney, "Leatherheads" - possibly because of the film's promos or the fact that it should have been put out in football season (although I guess at least the DVD is) or something else - didn't really register with audiences, taking in $31M at the box office, which is under the film's reported budget.
It's too bad, because the film is actually genuinely funny at times, largely thanks to Clooney's loopy comedic style - the same sort of goofy, over-the-top performance that he delivered in the Coen Brothers "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?". The film (which takes place in the '20's) focuses on Dodge Connelly (Clooney), an aging football player who just wants to keep his team, the Duluth Bulldogs, on the field after he finds out the team - as well as some of the other teams in the league - are flat broke.
Wanting to keep his fellow players from having to go back to working in the mines, fields or factories, so he scrambles to come up with an idea and heads off to try and convince the wealthy CC (Jonathan Pryce) to try and get star Carter "The Bullet" Rutherford (John Krasinski) to try and come to play for the Bulldogs in order to draw the kind of crowds he's been attracting.
While the Bulldogs start to have a successful record (and a following) with Rutherford on the team, the addition of war hero Rutherford to the team has also drawn Chicago reporter Lexi Littleton (Renee Zellewger), who believes Rutherford's war stories aren't entirely true and she intends to see if she can't dig up dirt.
Dodge, overhearing her intentions, keeps his eye out to try to protect his new teammate. As the team continues to win, it begins to dawn on Dodge that he's been swept aside by the new star - both on the field and, given where Lexi's attention has turned - off the field, too. While the movie was promoted as a football tale, the film tries to find a balance between old-fashioned romantic comedy and sports movie. While the romantic elements worked and the football elements worked, I would have liked for the film to choose either/or and not try to fill out both halves. The film is about the rough start of pro football, but there's also some elements about the start of the business that football has become, and I would have liked the film to have expanded on that a little more.
As for the performances, I've never been much of a fan of Zellweger, she's amusing and has very good chemistry with Clooney. Both actors certainly turn on the old-fashioned charm, and Clooney continues to show his underappreciated comedic skills. Good supporting efforts also come from Krasinski, Stephen Root, Pryce and others. As entertaining as the performances in "Leatherheads" are and as excellent as the period look is, the picture still lacks a certain something: the cast appears to be having a grand old time, but Clooney lets the story ramble a little bit and while there are quite a few chuckles throughout the picture, the film doesn't get enough big laughs or string enough little laughs together to get comedic momentum going.
Still, despite some mild concerns, "Leatherheads" is an entertaining and enjoyable throwback to old-fashioned screwball comedies. The movie may lag a little at times, but the performances are terrific and quite a few stretches both on and off the field work well.
VIDEO: Universal presents the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Ace cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel's lovely, sepia-toned cinematography is presented superbly here, as the transfer offered very pleasing sharpness and definition throughout the show. Although a few dimly lit scenes looked a touch softer, most of the brighter outdoor scenes offered good small object detail.
There were few concerns to be found in the presentation, which looked smooth and clean throughout much of the proceedings. A couple of minor instances of artifacting were seen in a few scenes, but no edge enhancement, print flaws or other concerns were spotted. The film's color palette also looked accurate and black level also remained solid, as well. Overall, this was a very good effort from the studio.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was fairly tame, and that's to be expected, given the material's lack of opportunities for more aggressive sound design. While the surrounds are put into the game to offer some mild crowd noise and other sounds during the football games, the remainder of the movie is largely dialogue-driven. Audio quality is just fine, with crisp, well-recorded dialogue and clear, full sounding music.
EXTRAS: "George Clooney: A Leatherheaded Prankster" (Clooney plays a fairly funny joke on the cast; I guess I was expecting a more epic goof) featurette, "No Pads, No Fear" featurette, "Football's Beginning" featurette, "Visual Effects Sequences" featurette, deleted scenes and commentary with actor/director George Clooney and producer Grant Heslov.
Final Thoughts: Despite some mild concerns, "Leatherheads" is an entertaining and enjoyable throwback to old-fashioned screwball comedies. The DVD offers very good audio/video quality, as well as a nice helping of supplemental features. Recommended.
The Film B-