I can’t say for sure that was the genesis of “Draft Day,” but the film is nonetheless haunted by the ghost of ‘Moneyball’ while delivering a story about NFL player selection that dangles like a piñata overstuffed with character clichés, suspiciously convenient plot points and shots of Kevin Costner leaning against a desk with his arms crossed.
Costner stars as Sonny Weaver, the general manager of the Cleveland Browns saddled with familial baggage in the form of his recently deceased father and strained relationship – not fully explained – with his mother. He awakes on draft day to the knowledge that his co-worker/secret girlfriend played by Jennifer Garner – with whom he shares zero on-screen chemistry – is pregnant. Oh, and the team owner tells him in no uncertain terms that he needs to make a big splash in the draft or lose his job.
As if that weren't enough melodrama, we also learn that the Brown’s quarterback was injured midway through the last season, and a late trade proposal materializes from the 1st-pick holding Seatle Seahawks that would allow Sonny to pick up Heisman winner and likely first pick QB Bo Callahan (played by Josh Pence, the secret Winklevoss from 'The Social Network' finally allowed to show his face).
From there the story advances relatively slowly toward a literal ticking clock when Sonny must make some big decisions, although he’s distracted by his fumbling new intern, shade-throwing from Gardner, insubordination from his coach (Dennis Leary) and a gnawing feeling in his gut that party-boy Callahan isn’t the man for the job. That sounds more entertaining than it is, as what actually transpires on screen is a rotating backdrop of cubicle farms and storage closets as Costner paces around the team's executive office space for two hours.
In the final 30 minutes, Draft Day shows us a glimpse of the fast-paced banter-filled gamesmanship film it could’ve been, but it is hardly a game-winning Hail Mary pass after scrambling in the pocket for so long. The film’s resolution is a little too tidy, the stakes never seem to be very high and at no point do any of the characters present us with a compelling reason for why we should be invested in the outcome.
With neither the fist-pumping gridiron action of a typical sports film nor the nuanced emotion of a character drama, Draft Day manages to pull the worst of columns A and B to deliver a story about football that is both innocuous and unmemorable. It lacks sizzle, with little reverence to the game and investing too heavily in a half-baked romantic subplot, and ultimately comes away with what amounts to a low-scoring tie.
*'Draft Day' opens nationwide on Friday, April 11.