Today on inspirational sports dramas: Invincible, which is the true-to-life story of Vince Papale (portrayed by Mark Wahlberg), a football player. Why is his story important? Because he was a bartender who went to an open tryout for the NFL — no, seriously — and managed to win himself a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles. Could you imagine something like that happening nowadays? It wouldn’t. But in 1976, in what was even at the time and unprecedented move, such a thing did happen.
Or, it kind of happened. If you either know your NFL history or decide to look it up online, you’ll see that more than a few liberties were taken from the real story. Most importantly, for me at least, was a change made regarding how much football Papale played. In real life, he had played, both professionally and non-professionally, for years. In the film, he plays a couple of nights a week in a field with his buddies in a no-pads “league.” The film plays out as more inspirational as a result, as it leads us to believe that someone who plays games with regular guys could have a shot at the NFL.
The film is essentially one big “you can do it if you really try” storyline. Papale works hard and is eventually rewarded for his effort. He jogs a lot, is good at catching a football, has a big heart, and is in great shape for a 30-year-old. Those are all the ingredients that anyone needs to make an NFL team, apparently, even if it is only on special teams. More NFL teams should hold open tryouts. I’m sure there are plenty of people like this out there.
Invincible ends with an epilogue letting us know exactly how long Papale’s career was. If there’s a downer moment in this otherwise inspirational movie, it’s the epilogue. As it turns out, Papale didn’t have a long NFL career, and even when he was playing, it’s not like he was a great player. He was a fringe NFLer at best, and the film would have left the audience more cheerful and upbeat had it not told us just how successful — not very — Papale was at staying in the NFL.
Oh. Right. The movie. I’m supposed to be talking about the movie, not about Papale’s lack of success after the movie’s story fades to black. Okay, this is your generic underdog sports movie. Every beat you expect it to hit, it hits. Every scene you think it will include, it has. About the only difference I can think of is that pretty much everyone in the film — outside of his soon-to-be teammates — wants Papale to succeed. His friends and colleagues cheer him on, and I can only think of one guy who’s more indifferent than negative.
For the most part, though, you’ve seen this movie before. Do you need to see it again? With everyone so positive and Papale so confident, there’s never any doubt that he’s going to fail. He really does feel, for lack of a better word, invincible. The point when he starts to think that he might not succeed feels artificial because no signs have pointed in that direction, and his triumphs don’t really work because there’s never much doubt regarding the outcome. You need that negativity and adversity for this type of story to be effective, and it’s missing from Invincible.
What else doesn’t work? The love story, if you can call it that, between Papale and another bartender, Janet (Elizabeth Banks), gets barely any time to develop and feels tacked-on — likely added because the two wound up an item in real life and we needed to know that. The two actors have no chemistry, their conversations are so shallow that you never think they could fall in love, and this adds unnecessary minutes to the film that either could have been cut or used better elsewhere.
We’re also never really given any indication as to why the Eagles’ coach, Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear), would pick Papale to be on the team, except that he has blind faith in the man. The rest of the coaching staff voted for someone else to make the last spot on the team, and by all accounts hiring an actual football player is the logical decision, especially when he’s not hated by the rest of the players on the team. But Vermeil picks Papale, and it would have been nice to know why. Maybe have a scene where he justifies his pick to the general manager?
Mark Wahlberg kind of looks like Vince Papale. He is also in good shape. That’s likely why he was cast. The film is not an actor’s showpiece; it’s a PG-rated, mostly happy-go-lucky, Disney film, after all. There are no strong performances in a movie like this. Wahlbeg carries himself as a (very small) football player. That’s all that’s necessary. Greg Kinnear kind of looks like Dick Vermeil. Elizabeth Banks is just really pretty. There. The lead actors have been justified and described.
Invincible is a cutesy-poo inspirational sports drama about a Regular Joe managing to make an NFL team. You’ve seen this type of film before, and unless you’re looking for a family friendly version of this story, you have little reason to watch this movie. There’s not enough adversity, too much cliché, a terrible romance, and actors who are here either because of their looks or physique; their acting skills are unimportant because they’re barely having to act. Invincible is not worth your time.