Invincible (review)

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Yes, We’re Ready for Some Football

Well, isn’t this just a big ol’ pile of corndog Americana! Oh, that’s not a bad thing — hell, Invincible made me almost like football, made me almost see the appeal in a bunch of big sweaty guys built like meatlockers chugging around in the snow chasing a funny-shaped ball. Which is a big deal, cuz I normally hate football.

So, I can only imagine that people who love football might find more than a bit here to amuse and inspire them. Especially guys, cuz this is one a them dick flicks, you know, like chick flicks but for dudes, the kinda movie they’re allowed to cry over, cuz it’s about sports and manly relationships between fathers and sons, and between best buddies since like forever or at least elementary school, and stuff like that. You know, none of them girly feelin’s or nothin’ but real important stuff. Like historic touchdowns. No, seriously, there’s a scene here in which Mark Wahlberg’s blue-collar factory worker widower dad (Kevin Conway: Mystic River, Gods and Generals) waxes rhapsodic over some amazing football homerun from like the year 1746 or something, and he says: “That touchdown got me through 30 years at that factory, all those times your mother was sick…” And the hell of this movie is that you believe it. It’s corny, sure, but you don’t laugh even though by all rights you should. Invincible sells it.

Partly it works because of Mark Wahlberg (The Italian Job, The Truth About Charlie), who, if he isn’t actually a real sweetie offscreen is one helluva damn fine actor onscreen, cuz he’s got a charming hangdog everyguy thing going on… and then he grins, and he’s downright adorable. Like the one scene, after he’s gone to the open tryouts the down-and-out loser Philadelphia Eagles held — this is for-real, based on a true story — in 1976, inviting all comers to show off their football mojo and maybe get invited to join the team. And of course the movie wouldn’ta gotten made if Our Hero hadn’t actually done just that, but all his friends and buddies at the bar where Wahlberg’s Vince Papale works don’t know they’re in a corny Hollywood triumphant sports flick in which their pal Vince, just a guy from the ’hood, becomes the soul of the team and saves the spirit of the city and all. And the evening news sports report comes on the tube over the bar, and everyone looks up except Mark, who’s pulling a beer for someone and grinning a cute sneaky little grin cuz he knows what’s coming and he’s kept it a secret. And the sports reporter with the ridiculous 70s moustache and hideous plaid suits and worse jokes announces that the only dude at the tryouts who was worth a damn and got invited to Eagles camp is our Vince. And the crowd goes wild! *cheer cheer cheer* But it’s that tricksy charm of Wahlberg’s that makes the scene work in a movie way, makes you love the big dope, cuz he’s not such a big dope — he’s a sad, sweet, hurtin’ guy, endearingly vulnerable, adorably masculine without being a macho idiot.

Which is why girls like him. But he’s still completely muscly and guyish and all — I mean, *grrrr* football! in the snow! and the mud! in the slo-mo big sappy male-bonding touchdowns-with-your-pals-in-a-backlot-game moments! — so it’s okay for guys to maybe admit begrudgingly that he’s kinda cool. (And you know, all the same can be said about Greg Kinnear [Little Miss Sunshine, Robots] as the new Eagles coach, Dick Vermeil, who’s apparently world famous in football: guys and girls can agree that he’s cool, for the same different reasons: he’s manly without being cavemanly.)

Yeah, it’s nothing we haven’t seen a hundred times before — it’s The Rookie meets Rocky meets Rock Star (the latter of which featured Wahlberg in a real-life story of a fan turned pro; that one was about heavy metal but in all other respects is an identically engaging little flick). But director Ericson Core has a nicely stylish eye — not surprisingly, he is a cinematographer making his feature directing debut. And Brad Gann’s script is wise enough, for all that it follows a well-worn path, that it turns the tyranny of low expectations into something nearer tragedy than comedy — when Dad suggests that perhaps Vince might wanna give the open tryouts a pass after losing a job and a wife because “a man can only take so much failure,” well, it’s a moment that makes you wanna cry as much as laugh. (Though again it’s the sly gentleness with which Wahlberg’s plays his wretched, silent response to that that really makes it work.)

It doesn’t hurt, either, that the economic depression and general rundownness of working-class Philly feels all too fresh. No jobs? People coming back from a war dead? Everything old really is new again. And if a silly little movie like Invincible can make you cheer just a bit for an underdog of a regular guy who makes his dream come true and makes a lot of other people happy along the way, who’s to say that’s a bad thing?

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