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"INVINCIBLE"
(2006) (Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Sports Drama: Despite the long odds, his age, size, and lack of experience, an unassuming 30-year-old man tries out for a spot playing professional football for the 1976 Philadelphia Eagles.
PLOT:
It's 1976 and 30-year-old Vince Papale (MARK WAHLBERG) and his friends Tommy (KIRK ACEVEDO) and Pete (MICHAEL KELLY) have endured the end of another losing season for the Philadelphia Eagles. If that wasn't bad enough, Vince's wife Sharon (LOLA GLAUDINI) has had enough of him playing pickup football with them rather than finding a real job, and has moved out, while his gig as a substitute teacher has fallen through. Accordingly, he spends more time doing part-time bartending for his friend Max (MICHAEL RISPOLI) who runs the local watering hole where he and his friends try to wash away their sorrows.

Their latest point of discussion -- beyond Max hiring Janet Cantwell (ELIZABETH BANKS) his New York Giants loving cousin to work in the bar -- is former UCLA head coach Dick Vermeil (GREG KINNEAR) being brought in to try to change the team's fortunes.

Nearly everyone thinks it's a bad idea -- except for the coach's wife Carol (PAIGE TURCO) -- especially when he decides to open up the team's tryouts to anyone regardless of their experience. Having seen Vince play in their games, however, his friends encourage him to try out, but he doesn't think he has a shot and thus is reluctant, a belief shared by his widowed father Frank Papale (KEVIN CONWAY).

Nevertheless, and despite his doubts as well as those stated by bar regular Johnny (DOV DAVIDOFF), Vince decides he has nothing to lose. When he impresses the coach -- despite his age, small size and lack of any real experience playing organized football -- Vince is called back for further tryouts. From that point on, and as he and Janet start to fall for each other and Vermeil hopes he can turn the team around, Vince musters everything inside him to try to make the squad.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
In the world of movies, certain genres seem to compete for which can be the most predictable and formulaic. While horror films often seem to be frontrunners, there's enough variety among them to nullify their shot at the top spot. Romantic comedies, on the other hand, are right up there, as are sports dramas. Of course, the latter are often based on true stories, and thus must adhere to some degree to them, while the very structure of the various sports also places some confines on how their related plots can unfold.

Yet, for every last-minute drive in the bottom of the ninth where a buzzer beating shot out of the bunker means victory or defeat, there are plenty of those "based on" and "inspired by" real life events and/or participants from which to choose. Accordingly, cinematographer turned first-time director Ericson Core and fellow newbie screenwriter Brad Gann have gone back to the mid 1970s for their underdog tale "Invincible."

Based on the 1976 Philadelphia Eagles season, the film splits its time between focusing on NFL rookie head coach Dick Vermeil (played by Greg Kinnear) and an unlikely player few outside Philly fans or pro football enthusiasts probably remember or have even heard of. And that's Vince Papale (terrifically embodied by Mark Wahlberg), a resident of the Southside of the city of brotherly love who tried out for the team despite his age (30), relatively small size, no college football experience and the fact that he did so during open public tryouts for the squad.

Not surprisingly and notwithstanding the minute details, the story is pure formula -- the underdog rookie overcoming the physical and mental obstacles as well as naysayers with the aid of friends and family -- and doesn't offer many, if any, surprises. Nevertheless, there's something about the way in which the cast and crew manage to bring it all together that the results are a surprisingly engaging, entertaining and ultimately winning offering.

Of course, it helps if you're a football fan and/or have a soft spot for sports related underdog tales. Unlike similar period films such as "Glory Road" and "Remember the Titans," however, this one doesn't delve into the racial strife of the era (or most any other socio-political material beyond unemployment and a labor strike). Instead, it focuses its rewind energies on the retro soundtrack as well as the recreation of real games and the representation of some famous football personalities of that time.

Some viewers (or critics) might fault the film for omitting the social subtext and not really taking any risks with the storytelling. Yet, one really can't blame the filmmakers for simply wanting to tell their tale and focus on the story at hand without any of the accompanying baggage.

Beyond just the right directorial and storytelling touches, what makes the film work as well as connect with the viewer are the performances, particularly from Wahlberg. I went to college (Go Tribe!) long ago with a guy very much like Papale (at least as represented here) -- unassuming and seemingly too small and too nice to make it in the NFL. Yet, he did just that like his predecessor a decade before him, and Wahlberg -- presumably operating with some artistic license -- nails the part, grounds the film (in a good way), and allows the viewer to go along for the entertaining ride.

While he doesn't get as much character depth with which to play, Kinnear is quite good as the coach who eventually went on to great things with the Eagles and other NFL teams. Elizabeth Banks gives a good turn as the spunky bartender who holds her own in the male-dominated environment, and while there's little surprise her and Wahlberg's characters will be drawn together romantically, their chemistry is credible. Other supporting performances are decent -- ranging from the mostly supportive bar-based friends to the pro football players who don't give Papale a chance -- but there's even less depth to most of them.

Despite that, the sports formula (including the obligatory montages of training and such), the overall predictability (even if you have no knowledge of the real man) and some slow pacing in the middle, the film -- for the most part -- overcomes the conventions and creates the sort of feel-good movie magic that will envelope viewers in a satisfying manner. "Invincible" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed August 8, 2006 / Posted August 25, 2006


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