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Stupid Bowl

By Laura Leon

Leatherheads

Directed by George Clooney

Combine the roaring ’20s, the birth of professional football, a good looking lead like George Clooney and a gal with the gift of gab (Renée Zellweger), and what do you get? In the case of Leatherheads, Clooney’s latest directing foray, nothing much.

It’s hard to imagine that a movie with such tantalizing ingredients could be so flat. I even had a hard time staying awake during the tedious middle section, but if I had dozed, I doubt I’d have missed much. It’s 1925, and college football has taken the country by storm. The same cannot be said for the pro league, where teams like the Duluth Bulldogs, led by quarterback Dodge Connolly (Clooney), can’t even afford to purchase a backup pigskin. So, being the shrewd huckster that he is, Connolly inveigles Princeton star (and former war hero) Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) to join the Bulldogs, with a promise that the stunt will pay off handsomely for all, including Rutherford’s agent, C.C. (Jonathan Pryce, supplying the movie’s only grace note). The fly in the ointment is Lexie Littleton (Zellweger), a Tribune reporter assigned to ferret out the truth about Rutherford’s supposed World War I heroics.

Despite the fact that both gridiron stars end up falling for Lexie, or that the likeable Carter’s past threatens to bite him in the hiney, or that the team prefers Carter’s order to Dodge’s seat-of-the-pants style—really, despite anything remotely close to providing tension or interest, there is nothing to jar this doggedly mild production out of its rut. Randy Newman’s score tries hard to conjure up a speakeasy tone, but it just sounds tinny propping up stagy brawls both on and off the field. Clooney’s got the look right, except for Zellweger’s Veronica Lake coif, but no amount of kitsch can hide the fact that Leatherheads is hopelessly mediocre. The script, by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, strains to evoke the snappy wit of far better films by the likes of Preston Sturges and Ernst Lubitsch, but even Clooney can’t deliver these zingers with anything approaching panache or insouciance, and Zellweger, who spends most of the movie with her face screwed up like she’s sucking lemons, has a difficult time spitting out bon mots. The stars come off looking old and tired, which parallels the story’s pacing.

The grand finale, involving a crucial football game, is, quite literally, one big mess, with nobody able to discern who’s who, because of the mud, and, worse, nobody really caring anyway. (I found it ironic that, in a movie in which mud plays such a prime role, the flashback to the Argonne battle in which Carter earned his Medal of Honor takes place in a pristine, autumn wood, with nary any muck, body parts, discarded or busted weaponry, or any of the vast mess that littered the Meuse-Argonne during the final 1918 offensive.) You keep waiting, hoping, maybe, that Dodge and Carter will pull some crazy but brilliant stunt, but again, nothing really happens. A last-ditch plot twist invoking the role journalists play in promoting war (hmm . . .) is nothing short of weak. Clooney works his self-deprecation like nobody in the business, and Krasinski remains deeply amiable despite the script’s inability to define him as anything other than a set of qualities, but neither can right this rotting hulk of a movie.


Far Away Guys

Shine a Light

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Why?

I suppose, at this point, that Martin Scorsese can do whatever he damn well pleases. But why a Rolling Stones concert film? Aren’t there plenty of those already? And didn’t ace cinematographers Robert Richardson, Robert Elswit, Emmanuel Lubezki and Albert Maysles have anything more worthwhile to do? Fine, whatever. For what it’s worth, Shine a Light is a perfectly OK portrait of a once-great band in twilight, raging against . . . well, against nothing at all. Venerable institutions like the Stones don’t rage against anything.

First, the music: The Stones sound OK. On a few songs they’re great. “Loving Cup,” which features Jack White trading lead vocals with Mick Jagger, manages to be, like the group’s best moments in the 1970s, both sharp and shambolic. “As Tears Go By,” which Jagger refers to as an old, old song (as opposed to the 30-year-old “Shattered” or the 43-year-old “Satisfaction”?), shows a surprising pop charm. “Some Girls” is even more venomous than it was on vinyl three decades ago; ditto “Far Away Eyes,” which mocks country music, whores, truck drivers, Jesus, and America in no particular order. Keith Richards, whose guitar playing is spotty at best these days (Ronnie Wood is the band’s undisputed ace) pulls it together to front a great version of “Connection,” which Scorsese, inexplicably, cuts away from for interviews. And Jagger’s duet with Christina Aguilera on “Live With Me” is deliciously dirty.

Mostly, however, they’re either just OK (as on the ever-tedious “Start Me Up”) or mediocre (as on “Shattered,” which Jagger can’t sing anymore).

Scorsese doesn’t seem to have a point of view beyond “This is a great band” and “I can’t believe I’m filming this great band.” There are some preconcert behind-the-scenes bits that show the Stones treating Marty like a particularly favored jester, but we are allowed no peek behind the real curtain once the show starts.

Scorsese also intercuts vintage interview footage that serves only to remind us how great the Stones used to be, and even spends a few minutes showing President and Sen. Clinton meeting the boys before the concert, a benefit for the Clinton Foundation.

If Scorsese really wanted to be a rock & roll rebel, he would have found a way to get reaction shots of Hillary and Bill when Jagger sang the nastier stuff—about America and rednecks and Jesus, for example. Shine a Light has nothing to do with rebellion, however, which is why it’s ultimately not that interesting.

—Shawn Stone


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