For those who aren't aware that the NFL is America's secular religion, the awe-struck tone of the professional football-themed "Draft Day" starring Kevin Costner can't help but clue you in.
Made with the league's complete cooperation, not to mention its spiritual blessing, this is an earnest and way-contrived endeavor that manages, due largely to Costner's efforts, to be genially diverting in a gee-whiz kind of way.
Unless you're a committed pro football fan, the notion of constructing a major motion picture around the behind-the-scenes shenanigans surrounding the league's annual draft of college players may not seem like sure-fire material.
That may be why "Draft Day," directed by the veteran Ivan Reitman and written by Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman, opens with a stentorian pep talk by ESPN's Chris Berman that would not be out of place at a Super Bowl locker room, or even a Roman emperor's funeral.
"This is the day when lives change, fates are decided, dynasties born," Berman intones. If you are expecting a plot that deals with locker room harassment and the life-changing effects of concussions, you have come to the wrong place.
Berman is not the only real-life figure playing himself: "Draft Day's" cast includes more than two dozen of these folks, including legendary players like Jim Brown and even Commissioner Roger Goodell himself. And the film features enough lovingly burnished in-flight photography of NFL stadiums to occupy a six-person aerial unit, including four pilots.
The team names and stadiums may be real in "Draft Day," but the characters who work for them are all fictitious, starting with Costner in his most successful big-screen role since his portrayal of "Devil" Anse Hatfield in TV's feud-centric "Hatfields and McCoys" revived his career.
Costner is not the athlete he played in "Bull Durham" and "Tin Cup," he's not even a coach. Instead he brings his trademark relaxed masculinity to the role of general manager Sonny Weaver Jr., a gruff but good-hearted man committed to bringing his Cleveland Browns to safe harbor despite heavy seas of a personal and professional nature. Yes, it's that kind of a film.
Things start early and difficult for Weaver on this day of days. Our divorced hero has some personal stress to deal with: his girlfriend Ali (an earnest Jennifer Garner) has just told him she's pregnant. With the draft weighing heavily on his mind, Weaver's not sure how to react to a situation complicated by the fact that Ali works for him (she manages the team's salary cap) and no one in the office knows they're an item.
Then Weaver gets a call from his counterpart at the Seattle Seahawks. They own the No. 1 pick and are thought likely to use it on quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), the franchise-making big dog with all the tools. But the Seahawks have something else in mind: a trade that will give Weaver's team the chance to take Callahan for themselves in exchange for enough future draft choices to cripple the Browns' expectations for years to come.
The prospect of breaking in a rookie quarterback doesn't sit well with the Browns' arrogant new head coach, Vince Penn (an unconvincing Denis Leary). It especially doesn't sit well with veteran quarterback Brian Drew (Tom Welling of TV's "Smallville"), who's used the off-season to get into the best shape of his life.
It doesn't even sit well with Weaver himself, who is struggling mightily to become his own man and is still dealing with the fallout of having fired the Browns' last coach, a man who just happened to be his own father.
Weaver also has other players he has his eye on besides Callahan, including ace linebacker Vontae Mack ("42's" Chadwick Boseman). Plus he would just one time like to put on the field a team that is totally his own. Is that, he wonders stoically, too much to ask?
Unfortunately for all these naysayers, the one person the trade does sit well with is irascible team owner Anthony Molina (a delicious Frank Langella). "I need you to make a splash," he tells his general manager, the implicit threat strong in his voice, and so the die is cast.
That trade however, is the merest beginning of "Draft Day's" wildly circuitous story, which twists and turns through the draft's many rounds while the countdown clock is ticking and Weaver deals not only with football but also Ali, his staff, even his cranky mother (Ellen Burstyn). No one ever said being a G.M. was an easy job.
Though "Draft Day" feels far less authentic than the baseball-themed "Moneyball," it can be amusing to watch all this inside football stuff if you are an NFL fan. The dialogue may be of the "How's my favorite strength coach?" variety, but no league was harmed during the making of this film, and audiences will likely survive it as well.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for brief strong language and sexual references
Running time: 2 hours
Playing: In general releaseCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times