Invincible (2006)


Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Invincible (2006)
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

In 1976, UCLA Bruins head coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) took on the daunting task of taking pro football’s Philadelphia Eagles off an 11-season losing streak and into the limelight of winners. He takes an unprecedented chance and opens up tryouts for the team to any and all comers. A down-on-his-luck substitute teacher, 30-year old Vincent Papale (Mark Wahlberg), joins the throng of hopefuls and overcomes every obstacle to be chosen to live a fan’s dream in Invincible.”

Robin:
Robin's review will be published on opening day, 8/25/2006.

Laura:
In 1976, Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg, "Four Brothers") was a thirty year-old bartender and avid Philadelphia Eagles fan, but both he and his team were facing dark times. Having just lost his job as a substitute teacher and his unsupportive wife Sharon (Lola Glaudini), Vince has been reduced to borrowing money from his blue collar dad (Kevin Conway, "Gods and Generals") when his buddy Tommy (Kirk Acevedo, "Bait") encourages him to attend the unprecedented open tryouts announced by the Eagles new coach, former UCLA man Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear, "Little Miss Sunshine") in Disney's newest sports flick, "Invincible."

Disney studios has a long history with the inspirational sports movie, some quite good ("Remember the Titans," "The Rookie"), some not so inspired ("Air Bud," "Miracle"). Despite its lousy title, "Invincible is one of the very best of the breed, gritty and honest to the working class.

Returning home from his weekly football game with his bar buddies, Vince gets an earful from wife Sharon about his fiscal responsibilities (apparently he should have been looking for a more secure job in those hours he wasted playing ball).  The next day, he finds his position as a substitute teacher has been cut and his apartment cleared out by his nagging wife.  Meanwhile, West Coast college coach Vermeil is faced with East Coast pro ball fans and management who need a flagging team turned around pronto. Dick decides to get the city behind the team by announcing open tryouts and finds his 'heart' in Papale.

Even with his buddies and new girl Janet (Elizabeth Banks, "The 40 Year Old Virgin," "Slither") behind him, Vince is convinced he won't make the cut, especially given the hostile environment of the Eagles training camp, but he continues to plug away and Vermeil makes the gamble of his career bringing the guy onto the team.

Sure, writer Brad Gann piles on the coincidences a little heavily at the film's outset and cannot escape the whiff of several other films (the South Philly Everyman of "Rocky," the over-the-hill rookie of "The Rookie," the sports bar romance of "The Replacements") and director/cinematographer Ericson Core (who shot "The Fast and the Furious") has a tendency to crank up his 70's jukebox numbers a little high in the mix, but what they both do outstandingly well is recreate the environment of an urban working class community pulling together through hard times.  They also pepper the film with those smaller moments that define character - a dispirited Papale sees a neighborhood kid wearing his jersey number, Papale and Vermeil both vomit before the Eagles opener, a friend displays bravado in the face of an encroaching labor strike.  There's also a nice balance between Papale and Vermeil's parallel stories.  The director doesn't force their interaction, but instead lets them play almost mutually exclusive of each other as would be the real case between a rookie and NFL coach.

Mark Wahlberg has been scoring touch downs with his performances ever since "The Italian Job" and his muted performance here is just so right.  Papale isn't a showy guy, just a good ball player and a good friend from the neighborhood.  Kinnear keeps impressing as well, here the right mixture of outward confidence and inward doubt.  Also terrific are Michael Rispoli ("The Weather Man") as bar owner Max, Dov Davidoff as buddy Johnny and Acevedo as Tommy, the friend who delights in others' good fortunes even as his take a turn for the worse.  Conway plays Papale senior as a man who has worked hard all his life with little to show for it who still puts family first.  As for the women in the piece, Banks is believable as the lone sister from a brood of brothers, a tomboy with sex appeal, and Paige Turco ("Urbania") is grounded and practical as Vermeil's wife, but Glaudini makes Sharon a one-note shrew.

It's unusual to see a director work as his own cinematographer (Steven Soderbergh comes to mind), but even with the pressure of making his feature directorial debut, Core doesn't relax behind the camera.  The film is often inventively shot, particularly out on the field.  Costumer Susan Lyall ("The Mothman Prophecies," "Flightplan") gets those hideous 70's suits just right (I cringed at one number worn by Michael Nouri as Eagles owner Leonard Tose) and Kinnear's hair alone announces him as a 70's California man.

"Invincible" sounds like one of those by-the-numbers sports movies, but give it a shot. This is a really solid film that resists gooey sentiment and delivers something that feels like its been earned.

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