Monday, 20 May 2024

Screwball comedy tries hard to score in 'Leatherheads'


The baseball season has just gotten under way, but George Clooney, as the director and star, is tossing his best pitch for the football-themed screwball comedy “Leatherheads.”

Should we view this movie as brilliant counter-programming or an elusive “Hail Mary” attempt to score at the box office? Upon closer inspection, for a sports story written by veteran “Sports Illustrated” writers Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, “Leatherheads” comes up short on even the most basic insights into the early days of pro football.

The premise of the comedy is ripe with possibilities. Set in 1925, “Leatherheads” develops its story amidst the struggling efforts to turn football into a professional sport.

The nation was riveted by the allure of college football. The men who played football as adults were mostly crude, rough, and foul-mouthed farmers, factory workers and coal miners, playing at nearly empty venues in front of loud, drunk fans who could not conceive of paying top dollar to attend an event.

George Clooney’s Dodge Connelly is the aging player-coach of the Duluth Bulldogs, a ragtag bunch who have to forfeit a game when their only pigskin turns up missing. Even worse, the team is so cheap the players have to shower in their uniforms to save on laundry bills.

After the Bulldogs lose their sponsor and the entire league faces collapse, Dodge convinces agent CC Frazier (Jonathan Pryce) to secure his rising college football star, Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford (John Krasinski), in order to rejuvenate pro football. A dashing war hero who mythically managed to force a platoon of German soldiers to surrender in World War I, Carter is a photogenic charmer whose handsome mug adorns advertisements everywhere. A deal with the golden-boy football star seems a sure bet to lift everyone’s fortunes.

The football champ looks almost too good to be true, and spitfire journalist Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) snags a big assignment from her editor at the Chicago Tribune to dig deep into the Carter Rutherford legend.

There’s reason to believe that Carter’s war heroics aren’t nearly in the same league with Sergeant York’s daring exploits. So Lexie hooks up with the Duluth Bulldogs to follow the team on the road, and promptly ends up in an odd romantic triangle with Carter and Dodge. That may be overstating the case, because Lexie snuggles up to Carter in pursuit of her story, while Dodge is the one she clashes with in the kind of sharp banter that recalls screwball comedies of the 1930s.

For a sports-oriented movie, “Leatherheads” spends too much time focused on the romantic comedy angle, tossing in plenty of slapstick and screwball antics that have little to do with football. However, Dodge, Lexie and Carter are interesting characters in the give-and-take of their own agendas.

Regrettably, the film glosses over the origins of pro football and virtually ignores the scandalous nature of how the game was once played. On more than one occasion, there are references to colorful yet questionable football plays, but the audience is left wondering what exactly will be banned when a new commissioner of football establishes a set of well-defined rules.

Nicely photographed and evocative of a bygone era, “Leatherheads” is a pleasure to watch, and not just for the scenery. Maybe the film doesn’t score a touchdown, but George Clooney and Renee Zellweger make excellent combatants in the screwball comedy department. The breezy dialogue is a real treat.

By the way, it’s troubling that John Krasinski’s war hero is still in college about seven years after World War I ended. Despite some grievous flaws in logic, the film still delivers plenty of laughs and an enjoyable entertainment.


Keeping up with your favorite TV series when episodes are released on DVD is an exercise in a serious financial commitment. If a popular program runs for a decade, it becomes pricey to buy each season separately.

“Perry Mason” aired for nine seasons, followed by many years in syndication. Fortunately, the release of “Perry Mason 50th Anniversary Edition” allows for an affordable viewing of 12 exceptional episodes of Raymond Burr in the title role of defense attorney Perry Mason, assisted by Barbara Hale as his beautiful and trusted secretary Della Street and debonair William Hopper as detective Paul Drake.

This four-disc collection follows the amazing trio as they crack impossible cases and uncover the truth every time. Great guest stars include Robert Redford, James Coburn, Adam West, Burt Reynolds, Leonard Nimoy, Dick Clark and Ryan O’Neill.

As to be expected, there are plenty of bonus features, including cast interviews and Raymond Burr’s initial screen tests.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.


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