Ivan Reitman's Draft Day is a diluted mix of Jerry Maguire and Moneyball that lacks the emotional pull of the former and the intelligence of the latter. While it may not measure up to its two most obvious influences, it goes down smooth, even though it ends up feeling like little more than a feature-length advertisement for the NFL.
The movie stars Kevin Costner as Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager of the struggling Cleveland Browns. With half a day to go until the beginning of the draft, he gets a trade offer from the Seattle Seahawks. The Browns can have the first pick this time around in exchange for multiple first-round picks in subsequent drafts. Sonny doesn't want to mortgage the future of his franchise and refuses, but when Browns owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) tells him that he needs to make a big splash that will help sell tickets or he'll be fired, Sonny accepts the Seahawks' offer.
Sonny and his scouts now have about 12 hours to determine if they should take the consensus, no-brainer top pick, the seemingly flawless Wisconsin quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence); their decision is complicated by the fact that they already have a solid, if injury-prone, QB named Brian Drew (Tom Welling). Sonny is more interested in defensive prospect Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman), a beast of a linebacker whom the press believes lacks discipline. Meanwhile, the Browns' head coach (Denis Leary) is touting a superstar running-back prospect whose father once played for the Browns.
In addition to all of the work drama, Sonny finds out that his girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant, and she's not thrilled that their relationship must remain a secret since she's an executive with the team whose responsibilities include making sure they stay under the salary cap. Also, Sonny's father, the Browns' previous coach, passed away the week before.
It should be clear by now that there's a heaping pile of plot in Draft Day, and while Reitman does a decent job of keeping up the narrative pace and juggling all of these story lines, screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph make some serious logical errors that keep the film from developing any depth. Their most egregious mistake occurs when Sonny shares a piece of information with his underlings that explains Vontae's most infamous public display of irresponsibility: Even viewers who don't know a touchdown from a touchback will recognize that this explanation would have been public knowledge immediately after the incident occurred. It's such a ludicrous plot development that it undermines the audience's suspension of disbelief.
The performers keep everything enjoyable and light. Costner doesn't do much here, but he doesn't have to; Garner is warm and unflappable, though not quite plausible as a football insider; and Langella playfully chews the scenery as the powerful team owner.
Two actors do stand out. Denis Leary looks and sounds like a football lifer; you can imagine his character having his own film. And Chadwick Boseman, who was very good as Jackie Robinson in 42, makes a big impact. He's totally believable as an athlete, but he also makes Vontae the most richly realized character in the whole movie with only four or five scenes.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Draft Day is that the NFL blessed the entire production, and obviously hopes to use it as a marketing tool. Not only do a number of real-life pro-football figures appear as themselves, but the NFL symbol, as well as the actual teams' logos and names, are on display throughout the movie. Seeing as how current league commissioner Roger Goodell has garnered a reputation as a law-and-order type -- frequently fining players and coaches for a myriad of on- and off-field actions -- it makes sense that he would throw the wealthy and powerful organization's full weight behind a film in which the subtext is that teams need to focus on picking players without character faults.
Draft Day seems promising, but it doesn't develop into anything particularly memorable or special -- kind of like the majority of college players taken in the final round of the NFL draft.