Starring: George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski
Directed by: George Clooney (“Good Night and Good Luck”)
Written by: Duncan Brantley (debut) and Rick Reilly (debut)

For a pair of debuting feature film screenwriters, Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly really capture the style and ambiance of professional football in the 1920’s in “Leatherheads.” Although novices in Hollywood, both men were Sports Illustrated reporters for much of their lives, which explains the panache and slight absurdity of their era-based film. When you study something long enough, it starts sinking in.

It’s been 17 years since Brantley and Reilly wrote the screenplay for “Leatherheads” before it was bought by Universal Pictures to go into production. The guys lucked out when it landed in the lap of Academy Award-winning actor and Academy Award-nominated director George Clooney (“Syriana”), whose suave personality and dry humor seems to fit the classic nature of the screwball comedy genre (for gosh sakes, the man started his career in “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and was the only person outside the Conner family that could match wits in the late ‘80s with Rosanne).

It’s nice to see someone as talented and sought-after in the industry not take themselves so seriously (i.e. Tom Cruise in “Austin Powers in Goldmember” or Jack Nicholson in “Anger Management”). In “Leatherheads,” Clooney lets it all hang out like he did in “O Brother, Where Out Thou?” and it works.

In the film, Clooney plays Jimmy “Dodge” Connelly, the captain of the Deluth Bulldogs, a professional football team in the ’20s. During this era, the sport was not what we know it as today. No one comes to the games and his entire team is made up of “miners, farmers, and shell-shocked veterans.” Although the players have passion for the sport, everyone else sees it as a spectacle more than anything else.

The football games everyone is watching instead are in the college ranks. With young, strapping players like Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) from Princeton, who just happens to be a war hero, there’s more to watch during these games that trick plays and 300-pound linemen trying to kick field goals. Carter is the poster boy for collegiate athletes and everyone wants a piece of him.

This includes Dodge and sparky newspaper reporter Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger). Dodge wants Carter to join his ragtag team and invigorate the league when he finds out they are going bankrupt. On the other hand, Lexie has learned of some shocking allegations about Carter’s time in the war and wants to find out if his battalion heroics are the truth or the result of tall tales.

“Leatherheads” is gawky at times, but never fumbles. It’s an entertaining take in the world of sports most of us have probably only seen on black and white photos. Boys will like the football (there’s not much of it) and the silly laughs, while girls will like the way it sort of feels like “A League of their Own,” but on the gridiron. Think of Clooney as the reincarnation of Spencer Tracy and Zellweger as Katharine Hepburn and you’ll do just fine.

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