“Draft Day,” Reviewed: Fumble.

DRAFT DAYYou probably need to be a football fan to truly appreciate Draft Day (PG-13) – or at least, you need to have never seen Kevin Costner make a sports movie with Ron Shelton. Alone, ex-baseball player Shelton wrote or directed some of the more interesting athletics-themed movies of the last 30 years (including Blue Chips, White Men Can’t Jump and The Best of Times); and with Costner he made Tin Cup and Bull Durham, two classics that plumbed the immutable connections between the sporting life and life itself.

Seeing Costner in another sports movie – this time playing the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, in the 12 hours before the NFL’s annual player draft – made me yearn for another transformative experience in jock cinema. But alas, Ron Shelton is not here: Director Ivan Reitman, bless his heart, is no Shelton, and Draft Day is no masterpiece. Costner’s GM is at a career and personal crossroads, dealing with the death of his legendary coach dad, the newly announced pregnancy of his girlfriend and co-worker (Jennifer Garner), and being told how to do his job by the team’s owner and coach (Frank Langella, Denis Leary).

Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman’s script is workmanlike in its efforts to explain what’s going on and why anyone should care – this is a movie about contract negotiations, after all, with no on-the-field action to provide a final-reel boost. Costner’s sleepy performance is unlikely to make non-fans appreciate the horse-trading intricacies as the clock ticks.

The film benefits from smart editing, and on-screen graphics and cutaways that resemble nothing so much as the hyper-produced TV sports coverage that distinguishes modern football telecasts. But for better or worse, that stylish storytelling adds to the sense of Draft Day being a congratulatory hug for the NFL, just for being there. Logos are everywhere, and there’s a sense of pageantry to the way teams’ cities are introduced that suggests this film, and not Noah, is the big religious release of the season. Ultimately, Reitman’s film might have benefited from a little less love of the game and a little more love of the characters, and the story they’re in.

(IMAGE: Kevin Costner in Draft Day. Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.)