It’s a delightful irony that “Draft Day,” a movie about America’s gaudy celebration of pro football’s newest players, showcases two of Hollywood’s old dogs: actor Kevin Costner and director Ivan Reitman.
Costner stars as Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager of the beleaguered Cleveland Browns, who’s having a hectic day. It’s been a week since the death of his father, the beloved Browns coach whom Sonny fired last season. Sonny’s girlfriend, Ali (Jennifer Garner), who runs finances in the Browns’ front office, tells him she’s pregnant. And this is the day of the NFL Draft.
Cleveland has the No. 7 pick, which Sonny aims to use to pick Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman, from “42”), a good-hearted defensive tackle from Ohio State. But the Browns’ owner, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), demands Sonny make a bigger splash — so Sonny trades to get the No. 1 pick from Seattle. (Obviously, the script was written before the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, but whatever.)
Sonny’s move angers a whole lot of people. Coach Penn (Denis Leary), the Browns’ new coach, is incensed that Sonny traded away the team’s future — three years of first-round draft picks — to get a rookie quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). The Browns’ veteran QB, Brian Drew (Tom Welling), has been rehabbing his knee after a season-ending injury last year and fears being traded. Even Sonny’s mom (Ellyn Burstyn) thinks it’s a bad move.
But a lot can happen in the hours leading up to the draft — and even more can happen once it starts. At least that’s how it looks to rookie writers Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph, who mix elements of screwball comedy with full-blown football machismo. (For atmosphere, the movie secured the help of the NFL, which allowed the use of real team logos and provided cameos by Commissioner Roger Goodell, several retired stars and most of ESPN’s on-air talent.)
Reitman, best known for “Ghostbusters” and making his best movie since “Dave” two decades ago, juggles all the story’s oddball elements like a pro. He brings in a boatload of characters, sometimes only for a minute (such as Sean Combs as Callahan’s high-style agent, or Rosanna Arquette as Sonny’s ex-wife), as Sonny wheels and deals on this frantic day. (Reitman’s use of split-screen effects, during Sonny’s many phone conversations, is as visually clever as I’ve seen in a long time.)
And damned if Costner, as the frazzled Sonny, isn’t enjoying himself immensely through “Draft Day.” As the clock ticks and the stakes rise, Costner’s Sonny shines as the master of the conference room. His bravura performance during the draft itself, improvising deals on the fly, is more exciting than anything you’ll see on a football field.
A general manager holds the future of an NFL franchise in his hands in a hard-charging screwball comedy.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens today.
Rating • PG-13 for brief strong language and sexual references.
Running time • 109 minutes.