Leatherheads is neither an exhilaratingly triumphant sports movie, nor a funny 1920s romance with a ton of old-timey spark and charm. It's got adorable men (George Clooney, John Krasinski), one really fine performance (Renee Zellweger), and some good costumes but everything else is pretty mediocre. There's nothing so good about this film that I would recommend seeking it out in the theater. Not offensively bad or outrageously entertaining, I'd say Leatherheads falls under the category of "perfect movie to watch on an airplane."
The story begins with cheering crowds and young men playing an exciting football game on a huge field. Afterward, star player Carter Rutherford (Krasinski) is jauntily walking amidst a group of reporters when one asks what's next for America's most beloved college football star. Another suggests he could play professional, which elicits a hearty laugh from the group. We soon find out why: professional football is an entirely different experience, played out in fields to meager crowds. Lacking any official rules, it's easy to cheat and to make things up along the way. One by one, teams drop out of the league from lack of money. This same fate threatens our hero, Jimmy "Dodge" Connelly (Clooney), the captain of the Bulldogs. You can probably guess how Dodge decides to save his team, but still, read more.
Dodge gets the bright idea to recruit Carter and once Carter agrees, the team gets an instant upgrade: better uniforms and shoes, multiple footballs (as opposed to just one per game), and an audience that will pay just to watch Carter practice. In addition to being a football star, Carter also won America's favor by allegedly single-handedly forcing a troop of German soldiers to surrender during WWI. Smelling something fishy in this story, the Chicago Tribune sends their best lady writer, Lexie Littleton (Zellweger) to spend some time with the nation's golden boy and suss out the real story behind his heroic tale. Of course, she crosses paths with Dodge and the two begin a sassy flirtation consisting of fast-talking battles of wits. Problem is, Carter Rutherford takes a liking to Lexie, too, so Carter and Dodge fight over Lexie's affections. Eventually, the love triangle sorts itself out and professional football gets a whole new book of rules — and some respect.
Krasinski is endearing in this role, easily adopting the good ol' boy confidence of Carter Rutherford, America's poster child for American bravery. Clooney — as both the director and the film's star — is good-looking and charming as always, and clearly has a love of the over-the-top, vaudevillian humor. It can be funny and there's a refreshing sweetness to this style, but it also seems like Clooney is trying really, really hard in this film. By contrast, Zellweger seems to fit easily in her role, channeling great smart-mouthed reporters of yore (His Girl Friday comes to mind). If I cared about any character, it was Lexie Littleton by a long shot.
There are some hilariously funny moments that almost make this movie worth the $10, but not quite. I found that my mind wandered, content to let the pretty images flash away and the fun, jazzy music of the roaring '20s squeal throughout the theater with no underlying substance to bring it all together. So if you require anything more than this, look elsewhere.