Underdog Tale of NFL Triumph Spun into Shopworn Gridiron Saga
By the summer of ‘76, Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) had just about bottomed-out. The 30 year-old, substitute schoolteacher had been laid-off and was working part-time at a neighborhood tavern, when his wife (Lola Glaudini) disappeared without notice taking everything in their modest row house that wasn’t nailed down with her. All she left behind was a nasty note in which she told her about to be ex-husband that, “You’ll never make any money and you’ll never make a name for yourself.”
Then, while crying on the shoulder of his best friend and bar owner Max (Michael Rispoli), Vince sees a TV news report that the Philadelphia Eagles would be holding a tryout open to the public. He wondered whether this was a legit initiative aimed at improving the prospects of his beloved, hometown team which had suffered through 11 straight losing seasons, or just a publicity stunt by new head coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) to generate interest in the flagging franchise. Regardless, egged on by his buddy and by bar patrons who’d seen him excel in sandlot pick-up games, Vince decides to give it a shot. If successful, he’d become the youngest rookie ever to enter the NFL, an amazing feat given that he never played a down of football in college. And it is this
against-the-odds effort which is the subject of Invincible, a Disney sports saga in the tradition of a couple of other fact-based bio-pics, The Rookie (2002) and Remember the Titans (2000).
Unfortunately, this film fails to measure up to either of those emotionally-engaging adventures. Invincible’s glaring flaw is that first-time director Ericson Core takes too many liberties with the truth, here, rendering Papale’s real-life story all but unrecognizable, reweaving it into a fractured fairy tale of improbable proportions.
For instance, the movie makes it appear that Vince had never played organized football before the NFL, when he had, in fact, starred for two seasons with the Philadelphia Bell till the upstart World Football League folded in 1975. So, he wasn’t actually an unknown quantity during his endeavor to make the Eagles, but already something of a local legend. Furthermore, it turns out that on the strength of his performance in the defunct WFL he was invited to a private, not a public tryout by Coach Vermeil.
Ignoring the revisionist history aspects of Invisible, there remains the basic question of whether Invisible offers a worthwhile experience. Yes, it’s a cleverly-scripted, frequently-funny, feelgood flick, complete with a sweet storybook romance. Vince rebounds nicely from his bitter break-up with his wife when unattached, runway model-looking Janet (Elizabeth Banks) conveniently arrives in town from New York to tend bar for her overprotective cousin, Max, while making goo-goo eyes at her hunky new co-worker/would-be Philadelphia Eagle. The only threat to their budding
relationship is her being a rabid Giants fan who could care less about alienating Vince’s affection by wearing her team’s jersey everywhere she goes.
Mating calls aside, the paint-by-numbers sports side of this picture is only likely to capture the imagination of kids under the age of ten unfamiliar with such formulaic fare. Anybody older has probably seen this tale told several times before, and more artfully executed. An unconvincing cross of Rocky and The Rookie.
Good (2 stars)