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Wahlberg is true-life Rocky in poignant ‘Invincible’

Erin McGinn | Monday, January 22, 2007

Everyone knows Rocky Balboa is the “Italian Stallion” from Philadelphia whose fame was secured after Sylvester Stallone’s original “Rocky” debuted in 1976. That same year, an unknown walk-on named Vincent Papale made his way onto the Philadelphia Eagles. “Invincible,” recently released on DVD, tells the story of Papale’s rise from a nobody in working-class Philly to a playmaker for the Eagles.

Mark Wahlberg stars as the down-and-out Papale, who is barely making ends meet by working as a substitute teacher and moonlighting as a bartender. His wife Sharon (Lola Glaudini) leaves him as the Eagles hire Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) as their new coach. In an effort to up the morale of the downtrodden city, Vermeil calls for open tryouts prior to the ’76 football season. Papale is the only person to make the cut and joins the team at training camp.

Similar to Notre Dame’s Rudy, Papale, although celebrated in his hometown, is not immediately accepted by the Eagles players, who still view him as an outsider. Constantly working to prove himself, Papale revitalizes the unflinching spirit of Philadelphia.

The real Papale earned himself the nickname “Rocky” since the movie became popular at the same time that he did. Wahlberg does an excellent job portraying the determination, spirit and energy that the real Papale demonstrated. The football scenes are especially realistic since Wahlberg took the majority of the hits delivered. In the scene shown in all of the trailers, Wahlberg is hit hard driving down the sidelines – an accidental blow he was never even supposed to take.

The film does an excellent job of portraying 1970s Philadelphia, which was going through plenty of labor problems and high levels of unemployment. The bars and the stadium are excellently recreated with acute attention to detail.

The heart and the spirit of the film are strong throughout because of the capable guidance of director Ericson Core (“Daredevil”) and the same production company responsible for 2004’s “Miracle.”

While the film is very well made, the DVD leaves much to be desired. This is in part because of Disney’s reputation for releasing quality DVDs. The quality of the film itself is sharp, but there is little in way of special features – unlike most other Disney DVD releases. But while there aren’t many additional features, what is there is well worth watching, especially for fans of the film. There is a 45-minute featurette entitled “Becoming Invincible: The Vince Papale Story,” which is highly entertaining. The real-life Papale is a very charismatic and entertaining man who, it’s apparent, very much enjoyed his experience with the Eagles and the making of this film. Besides giving information on the real Papale (including footage from his NFL career) it also delves into the movie’s origins and some experiences during the filming.

The DVD also includes two different commentary tracks. The first features the real Vince Papale, as well as producer Mark Ciadari and writer Brad Gann. It is very interesting to hear Papale talk about the various scenes in the movie and how they were similar/different to his own experiences as well as shared anecdotes about the production of the film. The second track features Core and editor Jerry Greenberg as they talk more about the technical aspects and difficulties they encountered during various shots.

“Invincible” is exactly what the audience expects from the sports underdog genre, which arguably began with “Rocky.” While the DVD is a little lacking, the film itself is a heartwarming and endearing story of what it is possible to achieve.