Looks like Bill Murray is the reason anyone knows Ivan Reitman. Reitman was a hot commodity in the 80's, directing 3 Murray staples: Meatballs, Stripes, and Ghostbusters. Those movies rippled with comedy and fun. But after 1990? Yikes, Reitman's filmography is filled with "gems" like Dave, Junior, and My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Draft Day continues Reitman's downward trend, wasting a great concept in the process. Maybe Bill Murray (instead of Kevin Costner) should have been the lead here.
Draft Day focuses mostly on Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner), general manager of the Cleveland Browns. For those who don't watch football, the general manager makes all the decisions on which college football player the team drafts. Sonny has to choose between 3 players: Vontae Mack (a middle linebacker played by Chadwick Boseman), Ray Jennings (a running back, played by real life running back Arian Foster), and Bo Callahan (a quarterback, played by Josh Pence). Sonny has lots of external pressures affecting his decision. The Brown's owner (Frank Langella) wants him to make a splash or he might fire him. Sonny's hot-shot new coach (Dennis Leary) wants Ray Jennings and not Bo Callahan because he is comfortable with the team's current quarterback Brian Drew (Tom Welling). In addition, Sonny just found out his on/off girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) who works for the Browns is pregnant with his child and Sonny's mother (Ellen Burstyn) wants to settle the family will today.
The NFL draft seems like a can't miss story. There are multiple directions, equally compelling, that Draft Day could have gone in that were better than this one. If the movie made the day itself the focus, choosing to show all the aspects of it from multiple perspectives (general managers, top prospects, players who got hurt but want to be drafted, players' family members, agents, drafting rooms, team fans), Draft Day could have been a truly unique sports story. If Draft Day had decided to focus just on the Browns's draft room during the actual draft, and how frenzied and crazy the room can get, the story would have been a compelling study in chaos. Had draft day elected to show just the three athletes vying to be the number one overall pick, the competition and character study would have been entertaining to see. Instead, Draft Day focuses on one person (which isn't a terrible idea), but spends too much time mired in pointless family subplots the drive the main narrative of the story. The NFL draft has built in tension and drama, but Draft Day chooses instead to generate its own dramatics to the detriment of what should have been the real story: Sonny's picks for Cleveland's future.
The NFL feels like it has its hands deep into the production of Draft Day. The league had lots of issues this year, with concussions and fewer kids in youth football. As a result, they wanted to create the most saccharine ending possible. Any twists in the final act are because the audience is not thinking happy enough. The mistake the movie makes is thinking we want to root for Sonny Weaver Jr. However, Sonny makes some terrible decisions along the way. That on its own is fine - characters make mistakes sometimes - but he continues to dwell on them for long periods of the movie, basically showing how dumb the character is. The analysis of some of the first players selected in the draft should be finished and dissected ad nauseum by the Browns's scouts. However, key findings on one of the players are seen only hours before the draft, further indicating that Sonny doesn't really know what he's doing. This would all be fine if the third act revealed some method to his madness, but the movie uses blind luck and then some quick thinking on Sonny's part to achieve the movie's ending. At this point, Sonny's decision-making had come into serious question, and the audience should have mostly soured on the character; this makes the fates of the "good" players especially sad because they have so much faith in what appears to be an incompetent general manager.
Acting isn't a highlight here, but I am amazed at the waste of rising talent and icons. The exceptions are Chadwick Boseman (who captures the intensity of a very prideful player with deep commitment to his family and sport) and Tom Welling (who plays the quarterback who thinks he is about to be passed over). As the headliner, Costner plays the stoic and weary leading man that he's grown into over the past few years. He's not bad, but he looks very bored, as if he's wondering how he's going to spend the large amount of money he was given for this role. Jennifer Garner thanklessly plays the love interest to Costner; she's fine, but uninspiring. Ellen Burstyn, Terry Crews, Sam Elliott, Frank Langella, Dennis Leary, Kevin Dunn, Chi McBride, Sean Combs, Josh Pence, and Arian Foster are all mentioned in 1 or 2 scenes and never mentioned again. The cream of the forgettable crop is Rosanna Arquette, Costner's ex wife, who shows up to push Jennifer Garner's buttons, and is never seen again.
Everyone involved should be ashamed of Draft Day. A terrific new spin on a sports story is completely wasted for pointless family dynamics and stupid characters. The people to feel most bad for are the Cleveland fans. Not only has their city not won a title in almost 50 years, but this movie showcases an example of some of the incompetent leadership Cleveland has had to deal with over and over again.