Leatherheads, PG

When even the crowd doesn't care who wins, the game's in real trouble
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The Independent Culture

George Clooney's third film as director is a comic romp set in the Roaring Twenties, when American college football was played in vast stadiums packed with crowds, while the professional game was played by part-timers in muddy fields beside more cows than spectators. Clooney is one of the professionals.

His team, the Duluth Bulldogs, is on its uppers until he has the idea of signing up college football's brightest star, John Krasinski, a clean-cut Princeton student and war hero. Suddenly, pro football is big business – so suddenly, indeed, that you wonder why no one else thought of hiring a college star before. But a reporter, Renée Zellweger, has heard that Krasinski's reputation as a soldier might not be as well deserved as his reputation as a quarterback, so she starts sniffing around the Bulldogs to see if she can get to the truth.

Leatherheads is an affable, good-looking homage to the days before sportsmen were armour-plated multimillionaires, but just because a film has characters named Dodge, Lexie, Suds and Curly doesn't make it a screwball comedy. The underlying plot about the commercialising of pro football is forgotten for most of the time, leaving a romance which is a no-score draw. Zellweger doesn't have the flintiness, or the legs, to be a Katharine Hepburn or a Rosalind Russell, and the rivalry between the two men in her life is so good-natured that no one seems to mind which of them gets the girl.

The same goes for the football sequences. Something's wrong with a sports movie when you don't care which team wins the climactic game, and something's very wrong when the spectators at the game don't care either.