In this age, sports, not religion, is the arena for miracles. Think of Pete Gray, the one-armed outfielder for the 1945 St. Louis Browns. Or Dick Nen, whose only major-league hit in 1963 was a monster home run that helped propel the Los Angeles Dodgers into the World Series.
Producers Mark Ciardi, an ex-big leaguer, and Gordon Gray have turned such sports miracles into a motion picture cottage industry: First came "The Rookie," about a high school baseball coach who tried out for the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays and wound up in the big leagues three months later, and then "Miracle," about the coach who inspired the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's improbable victory. Now the two team with Ken Mok for "Invincible," the reasonably true story of Vince Papale, a South Philly bartender who never played college football yet tried out for his hometown Philadelphia Eagles and wound up playing wide receiver and special teams from 1976-78.
"Invincible" is a neatly packaged Walt Disney Co. picture with bone-crunching football action; a nice sense of the blue-collar, male-dominated milieu that nourishes football fanaticism; and a few too many tugs at the heartstrings. Opening on the cusp of the football season, the film will attract a male following of all age groups, so it should do moderate theatrical and video business in North America.
Mark Wahlberg plays Vince, which is a bit of a stretch physically because if you were choosing sides for tag football, he probably would not be your first choice. However, Wahlberg does get the heart-and-guts "Rocky" side of the equation.
CM8ShowAd("Middle"); DoFSCommand_146903(command,args); Things are going so badly for Vince as the movie opens that in one scene, when he slouches home from the bar, the soundtrack breaks into that classic melancholy song, "One for My Baby." He has lost a job as a substitute teacher, his wife had fled with every possession, and he's broke. So why not try out for the Eagles, coming off a hideous season, and its new coach, just hired out of UCLA, Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear)?
Vince turns out to be a legitimate rookie, a guy whose spirit and determination make him nearly as good as the overpaid and underperforming pros. They hate him, of course, but his edge is that he still knows what it means to be hungry. Also brightening his life is a terrific-looking fellow bartender, Janet (Elizabeth Banks), whose only "character flaw" is that she is a New York Giants fan.
Writer Brad Gann and cinematographer-turned-director Ericson Core root the movie firmly in a South Philly neighborhood where jobs are scarce and strikes are under way. Initially Vince's dad Frank (Kevin Conway) isn't sure his boy should try out. Nevertheless, Frank's devotion to the Eagles is what got him through his wife's illness and early death.
The guys Vince plays sandlot football with have mixed reactions to their pal's success. Bar owner Max (Michael Rispoli), Tommy (Kirk Acevedo) and Pete (Michael Kelly) live vicariously through his exploits. But Johnny (Dov Davidoff) is jealous and worries about losing his pal to the bright lights, so he sulks in a corner of the bar.
The most accomplished thing about this movie is that even if Vince had been cut before the season began, there will still be a decent story here because the characters and their environment are so strongly established. Wahlberg plays the sensitive side to Vince without compromising any machismo. Banks seems to be having genuine fun as a football-addicted female hanging out in an all-male world.
The acting is solid throughout, with Michael Nouri as the club owner and, frankly, Kinnear the only weak spots. OK, so the college coach is an NFL rookie too, but Kinnear gives Vermeil too much vulnerability.
Core, acting as his own cinematographer, shoots the hard-nosed football action close to the trenches to catch all the painful hits. Costumes, sets and decor strongly evoke the '70s along with music coming from radios, while Mark Isham's score gets excited at all the right moments.