Plenty of laughs make 'Leatherheads' winner


By Gregg Tubbs

Stars: George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Root, Ezra Buzzington, John Vance, Dan John Miller
Director: George Clooney
Rating: PG-13 for some language and violence

You've got to love an actor who is willing to spend the majority of a film wearing the most hysterical piece of sports headgear, all for the sake of a good laugh.  

Luckily those flimsy leather helmets aren't the only source of comedy in Leatherheads, George Clooney's rollicking homage to the early days of professional football. Throw in a magnetic college football superstar, a wise-cracking lady reporter and a lovable team of football-fumbling misfits, and you've got all you need for a comic touchdown. And for extra points, you'll discover weightier themes the need for heroes and how half truths can grow into convenient and useful legends.

Leatherheads aspires to capture the elusive comic madness of the 1930s screwball comedies, which deftly combined slapstick, sexual tension and rapid fire dialogue. Leatherheads' energy, irreverence and overall conviviality overcome its few shortcomings.

The film is at its best when it's on the field, where the pratfalls and brawls are endless and milked for all they're worth. Leatherheads also does a nice job at capturing the sepia-toned, smoky atmosphere of 1920s America, filled with speakeasies, newsboys and "dames" both classy and otherwise.

The film follows the story of two football players on very different trajectories. Dodge Connolly (Clooney) is a roguishly handsome football pro with a few too many games under his belt and too few ahead. He's the captain of the Duluth Bulldogs, a motley team of former miners and farmhands, struggling to stay solvent.

 The big draw in 1925 is college football, and its brightest star is handsome Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski). Further enhancing his allure are his WWI exploits, when he reputedly forced an entire German platoon to surrender to him and earned the nickname, "The Hero of Argonne," and the Congressional Medal of Honor.

For Dodge, Carter Rutherford and his legions of fans and eager sponsors represent pro football's salvation. For Carter, who is facing graduation, the rough and tumble pro league offers him the only chance to continue playing football, something he loves as much for the sport as for the adoring fans.

Hot on Carter's trail is Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger), a newspaper reporter whose star is rising almost as fast as Carter's. Though pretending to write a sympathetic profile on Carter, she's in fact preparing to reveal his war heroics as a fraud.

Leatherheads is designed to deliver laughs, nostalgia and a little romance, so reading too much into it would be a mistake. But central to the film is the idea of heroes -- how we crave them, need them and sometimes even construct them. Whether they are war heroes or sports heroes (Carter is both), we want to believe in them, emulate them and project in them all that is best in us.