August 17, 2006

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Invincible (PG)
Mark Wahlberg rallies the downtrodden citizens of mid-1970s Philadelphia in Invincible, the based-on-a-true story of regular-Joe-turned-Philadelphia-Eagle Vince Papale.

Brand new Eagles coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) decides to increase local excitement and support for the team by holding open tryouts and getting all the guys who think they can do it better to show up and give it a go. (Lest Red Sox fans think they hold a record for crazy-fan behavior, we see Eagles fans of this era show up at games just to boo their team.)

For a guy like Vince Papale (Wahlberg), cheering and jeering the Eagles is one of the few happy, steady things in his life. He loses his substitute teaching job because of budget cutbacks and has only a job as a bartender to keep him afloat. This isn't nearly enough for his wife, and she splits, taking the furniture and leaving a note that says he'll never go anywhere, do anything, be anyone or have any money. About as low as the blue collar guy-on-hard-times can get, Vince has only the Eagles and a regular pick-up game of football to keep him going.

He's rather good at this pick-up game, though, so when the boys at the bar hear about the open tryouts, they urge Vince to go. He does, and after a day of watching the old, the overweight and the talentless, Vermeil decides that Vince might be more than just a way to get publicity.

Vince is eager on his first day of training camp but the rest of the guys are not eager to have him there. Can he stand up to the physical punishment of the camp? Can he take the scorn of the professional players? Can he live up to the hopes of the city? And what will this do to his small but potentially growing relationship with Janet (Elizabeth Banks), the Giants fan from New York?

When a city's on its knees, Vince Papale (like Cinderella Man and Seabiscuit before him) brings its people to their feet. Only, this time, it's more Grand Funk Railroad's "Feelin' Alright" and less "Brother Can You Spare a Dime."What will be the sepia-toned, remember-when song when they make the movies about the down-on-our-heels 2000s and the team/sports hero/special horse that rallies our spirits? Will we be easing the pain of a nation under-employed and at war by listening to the political rock opera of Green Day? Or will movies made 30 years hence show us crying in our beer to something by Kelly Clarkson? I won't enjoy being old but I think I will enjoy watching that future heart-warming tale of the 2004 Red Sox and the way we all kept our spirits up with Hoobastank, the Killers and Ashlee Simpson.

Invincible has a bit of the requisite-late-summer-heart-warming-tale feel about it. The movie takes a while to get going through the very-much-expected pattern of early triumphs followed by setbacks followed by reexamining what's important in life followed by rededication to go out there and play from the heart. By the time we get to The Big Game, the movie seems to run out of steam before it really gets to the meat of its story, the way you realize about halfway through reading a kid a bedtime story that is about twice as long as you are willing to recite. "And they all lived happily ever after with their wife and children in suburban New Jersey, the end," you say, backing out of the door and trying to avoid any follow-up questions.

None of the performances are particularly bad, but none of them are particularly good either. The movie lets cheering fans and a hits-of-the-1970s soundtrack keep things moving without worrying about more than the most superficial character development or exploration. C

— Amy Diaz


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