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Inspiring sports movie not exactly ‘Invincible’

Brian Doxtader | Monday, August 28, 2006

For better and for worse, “Invincible” is the picture-perfect sports movie. It revels in its clichés, its honesty, its uplifting message. Yet those very ingredients make “Invincible” an agreeably pleasant film for those willing to overlook its shortcomings.

Every single sports movie cliché is there, from the determined coach to the doubting friends, to the rival-teammate-turned-friend, to the “Big Game” that ends the film. It proudly features the most ubiquitous moments of “Miracle,” “Rocky” and “Rudy” all rolled into one. In fact, “Invincible” is almost like a sports-movie-by-numbers, as thoroughly quintessential as they come. “Invincible” is filled with clichés in a genre dominated by them. Yet the film gets by on sheer conviction, anchored by winning performances from Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear and Kevin Conway.

“Invincible” is the true story of Vincent Papale (Wahlberg) a teacher-turned-bartender who becomes a professional NFLer after new coach Dick Vermeil (Kinnear) takes over as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and allows an open tryout for the team.

Like a pro football “Rudy,” it follows an overage underdog who successfully pursues his dream. Along the way, he falls in love with fellow bartender Janet Cantwell (Elizabeth Banks) and has a heart-to-heart with his crusty old father Frank Papale (a surprisingly elegant Kevin Conway).

Like most movies of this type, it’s not really necessary to be a fan of the team in order to enjoy the film. The film isn’t really about the Eagles, though the Philadelphia backdrop is crucial to the movie’s setting (just as it was in “Rocky”). Whether the Eagles are beloved or hated, “Invincible” is more about Vincent Papale than the team, though Kinnear shines in his considerable screentime as Vermeil.

The film is as predictable as they come, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The film is inspirational in all the right ways, and its heart is clearly in the right place. For the most part, this is enough, though there are obvious problems.

Foremost is that “Invincible” feels oddly underdeveloped, despite a full-length running time. It doesn’t help that the ending feels abrupt rather than satisfying, which is particularly unexpected since the film has such a strong build-up to the rousing conclusion.

Additionally, most of the characters are only sketchily drawn, though the cast does its best to round them out. Papale himself is held at s strange distance, without the type of psychological character insight usually imbued in films like this.

Part of the problem may be in the film’s focus. Shots of picket lines and unemployed workers gives the impression that Papale stands as a sort of “everyman” who represents the poorer Philadelphia workers, but not enough is made of this. In fact, the protagonist, as a character, has a bizarre lack of balance. Papale is at once too complex to be a symbol and too underdeveloped to be an intriguing character.

Additionally, the direction and cinematography from Ericson Core (in his directorial debut) has a workman-like feel to it, though the over reliance on slick camerawork and editing during the football sequences is dizzying rather than thrilling.

Still, “Invincible” is a simple yet increasingly rare thing – a good story well told. It has to be taken on its own terms, but once those terms are accepted are accepted, the film works. This in of itself is an accomplishment, albeit a minor one.

“Invincible” is certainly a film worth seeing for anyone who wants to be inspired, who believes in a man who overcame the odds to become an Eagle and fly.