By Shawn McKenzie 08/28/2006
December 7, 1975. Philadelphia Eagles fans Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) and his friends Tommy (Kirk Acevedo) and Pete (Michael Kelly) watch another season end when the Eagles are defeated by the Bengals. The Eagles finished their season 4-10, and it was the eleventh losing season in a row for the franchise. Under head coach Mike McCormick, the team had continued to suck, and owner Leonard Tose (Michael Nouri) decided to bring in some fresh blood. He hires UCLA Bruins head coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear), who had recently brought the Bruins to a championship win in the Rose Bowl, to coach for the Eagles in their 1976 season. In an effort to bolster the spirits of Eagles fans everywhere, he holds a PR stunt in which he calls for open tryouts at Veteran’s Stadium…inviting anyone to try out for the team, despite age or previous football experience. He wonders if he has made a big mistake doing this, which is the consensus of virtually everyone. Only Vermeil’s wife Carol (Paige Turco) thinks that it’s a good idea, and she supports his attempt to at least give the fans of the Eagles some hope. Back in Papale’s world, he is also trying to recover from setbacks in his own life. He was a substitute teacher, but he was let go because of budget cuts. Since he found it difficult to find a better-paying job, his wife Sharon (Lola Glaudini), considered him a loser. Even though he still has a part-time job bartending for his friend Max (Michael Rispoli), Sharon decides to leave him…taking most of their possessions with her and leaving only a note that reads, “You’ll never go anywhere.” Papale’s only release is football. He expresses his love for the game by being a die-hard Eagles fan and by participating in some weekly pickup football games with his friends (the games themselves ironically were another reason why Sharon left…she thought that he was wasting time playing football instead of getting another job.) Papale has to ask his widowed father Frank (Kevin Conway) for some money to pay some bills, and he asks Max for some extra shifts at the bar. He has to share them with Max’s cousin Janet Cantwell (Elizabeth Banks.) Janet is a hot-looking fun-loving blonde who is obsessed with football. Unfortunately, for the Eagles lovers in the bar, she is a hardcore fan of the New York Giants (she grew up with five brothers back in New York.) That doesn’t stop Papale from having an instant spark with her. After seeing Vermeil’s press conference about the open tryouts, Tommy suggests that Papale should try out…since he is clearly the best player in their pickup games. Pete, Max, and Janet agree with Tommy, but Johnny (Dov Davidoff), a guy who spends all of his time drowning his sorrows at the bar, doesn’t agree. His sour attitude might have something to do with being out of work due to a labor strike. Frank also doesn’t think that he should try out, because he thinks that a man can take only so much disappointment. Despite being too short, too old (he is 30), and having no college football experience, Papale shakes off his own reservations and gives it a try…since he figures that it can’t hurt. He shows up for the tryouts with thousands of other hopefuls…most of which look like the football player equivalent of the bad singers from FOX’s “American Idol.” Papale stands out to Vermeil because of his speed, and the coach asks Papale to come back for the real tryouts. He is banged up and is ridiculed by the “real” players, but his determination makes Vermeil decide to give him more chances. Cut after cut, he survives the preseason…all the while he falls in love with Janet.
I’m not a big fan of football, and anytime I sit through a football movie, I have to take it with a huge grain of salt. Invincible is one of those very predictable Disney “feel-good” sports movies that managed to get it right.
While I knew that the movie was going to most likely have a happy ending (we’re talking Disney here), I think that first-time director Ericson Core, using first time screenwriter Brad Gann’s script, did a great job in keeping it exciting. It pleased me as a fan of inspirational stories that don’t delve into sappiness, and it will please fans of football for its exciting football action scenes.
The pleasing thing for me was the acting and the script. Having done research on the real Papale, I know that his physical appearance and back-history are slightly off as portrayed in the movie, but it doesn’t harm the story. According to my research, Papale was 6 ft. 2 in. and Wahlberg is 5 ft. 8.5 in., but having never seen the real Papale before, I don’t think that matters. What I am slightly concerned about, but I will forgive, is that Papale was not signed based on being discovered during an open tryout. He played for the Philadelphia Bell franchise of the World Football League as a wide receiver for two years before the league folded in 1975. The Eagles’ general manager Jim Murray got Papale an invitation to a private workout held by Vermeil after catching his performance on the Bell. Before playing for the Bell, he only played one year of high school football, and he truly did have no college football experience (he went to St. Joseph’s College on a track scholarship, but the school had no football program.) I would have still considered his real tale a Cinderella story, but a private workout isn’t as romantic as an open tryout. It was still fun to watch though, and I’d love to see another losing team attempt a similar stunt with an open tryout (heck…it would make for an interesting reality show. Maybe the success of this movie will inspire a team to do just that.) True or semi-true, Wahlberg shined in the role. He may have been small, but he truly looked like he could be a real football player. The other thing that I appreciated about the script was that it was inspiring without making you feel sickly. The other characters either supported Papale all the way (Janet, most of his friends), or didn’t (Sharon, Frank, Johnny)…and the un-supporters who eventually come around to supporting him don’t do it all of a sudden (that’s something that bothers me a lot in movies.) You really feel the realism of all of the characters. It is a bonus that the obligatory love relationship subplot comes off as natural as well. Wahlberg and Banks have a lot of chemistry together, and I bet that Banks may become many male football fans’ dream girl after seeing this movie.
The pleasing things for football fans will be the action scenes, which were filmed by veteran cinematographer Core. He was the cinematographer for 1999’s Payback, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, and 2003’s Daredevil…so he knows his action. I don’t know how often the director is also the cinematographer for big budget movies, but I’m sure that it helps when the two jobs are combined.
Invincible may have been made by “the people who brought you The Rookie” (2002; producers Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray), but it is able to stand on its own as an entertaining movie for fans and non-fans of football alike.
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