If you enjoy watching the classic screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s—you know, the ones that starred actors such as Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Irene Dunne, and featured rapid-fire dialogue with slapstick situations and sweet romance—then you’ll like “Leatherheads”. If you don’t, then you might not like this movie so much. In that case, don’t spend your hard-earned cash on this comedic homage to Hollywood’s past.
“Leatherheads” is a football comedy set in the Roaring Twenties, back in the days when the game was in its infancy. Rules barely existed, if they existed at all. It seems like everyone just made them up as they went along. Clooney plays Dodge Connolly, a football player with the Duluth Bulldogs. He’s frantically trying to save his beloved team from going belly-up in bankruptcy like other teams in the state. When he hears about Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski, television’s “The Office”), a top university player and World War I hero who’s bringing in the crowds to football games, Dodge sees a way out for his team. All he has to do is convince Carter to join the Bulldogs and hello, solvency.
Running interference for Dodge is ambitious reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger). Her boss has promised her a coveted editor’s job if she can dig up some dirt on Carter. Seems someone from his old squadron is claiming that Carter isn’t the hero the public thinks he is. With two attractive guys and one attractive woman in their midst, you just know there’s going to be competition for Lexie’s attention on, and certainly off, the field.
Zellweger’s Lexie is a tough-as-nails gal who can hold her own among guys who think she should be home baking cookies instead of holding down a job, especially one covering the sports beat. Shocking! She’s straight from the Rosalind Russell “dame” mold: think Hildy Johnson from “His Girl Friday”. With his matinee looks and charm, I’ve always thought of Clooney as today’s version of Cary Grant. In “Leatherheads”, Dodge is a character that Grant could have easily played in his heyday, a charming and affable schemer.
If you’re a fan of the old black and white comedies, you’re on familiar ground here and there are few surprises. But the script is funny and sharp, the pace is frantic, the acting is good, and the chemistry is palpable between the stars. While Clooney wears three hats (helmets?) in this flick: producer, director, and star, he doesn’t hog the spotlight from his costars. I can’t comment on the football scenes—I know little about the game—but I think that football fans will get a kick out of seeing the game as it once was. “Leatherheads” is a great date movie and a welcome nod to Hollywood cinematic history.