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Movie Review: Invincible

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Release Date: August 25, 2006

Oh those poor Philadelphia Eagles fans… No championships since 1960. Needless to say I do not feel that sorry for them, as I am from Cleveland – which is far worse than any other city’s sports woes, especially now the Red Sox have won a World Series. But if the City of Brotherly love has anything, it is a real love for their football team and an immense amount of character – two things that are clearly exuded in Disney’s new film Invincible.

Another thing clear to me as I screened this film was I was in Columbus. The film is set in 1976, when after a few abysmal seasons that made those lovable Phili fans a little less than civil, Coach Dick Vermeil took over the Eagles. Early in the film there is a scene where they are having a press conference announcing Vermeil (played by Greg Kinnear) as the coach. 

They mention he had just defeated Woody Hayes and The Ohio State Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl the previous year as the coach of the UCLA Bruins. At that moment, they're at the AMC Lennox theater on the Ohio State campus, the crowd of Buckeye faithful let out a low groan in unison. But somewhere before and after that moment, there was a movie that all enjoyed – I assure you.

The film stars Mark Whalberg as 30 year old Vince Papale, a down on his luck South Phili bartender who takes a once in a lifetime chance and tries out for the Eagles in 1976. An extremely unlikely candidate to actually make the team, Papale beats all the odds and not only makes it past the first cut, but ultimately makes it onto the Eagles roster.

It is a movie that just screams melodrama as we follow Papale through his internal battle of being a loser who rises up to inspire an entire city. I guess my problem with the film is that it fits the standard Disney sports underdog film mold – a feel good story sprinkled with a bit of forced conflict. In Papale’s journey, there is very little that creates suspense, except for the fact the “real” football players don’t like him.

As can be expected – they warm to him in the end. It just feels too happy to be a true underdog story. But then again, it is based on a true story so the filmmakers had to beef up the emotional tone of the film a bit to make it interesting. I don’t blame them, but that doesn’t mean it works implicitly.

Invincible, out this FridayMelodramatic forced conflict aside, the film is very heartwarming. Mark Whalberg is surprisingly good, delivering an uncanny likeness to the real Vince Papale. He shows off the heart of the character well, and succeeds in not overacting, which is sometimes the downfall of actors who are cast to play real people.

The same can be said for Greg Kinnear, who seems to be lighting up the screen this year. His performance in Little Miss Sunshine was exceptional, and his work here as coach Dick Vermeil was pretty good as well. By the end of the film you are rooting just as much for Vermeil to be successful as you are for Papale to make the team.

Along with the solid performances from this cast, the filmmakers did one thing very right in my opinion – they made the film just as much about the city of Philadelphia as it was about Vince Papale. The city becomes a character of the film just as much as anything else, and it is well done by director Ericson Core. This helped dramatically increase the emotional kick the film ultimately had – at least, as long as you aren’t a New York Giants fan. For Philadelphia though, I would equate it to Rocky, just with those beloved Eagles instead.

In the end the film works, and with a well timed release it will definitely draw out families and football fans alike. The film is heartwarming, but then again – so is every other Disney sports movie, so no surprises there. I would recommend Invincible if you are out looking for a bit of family fun this weekend. Me, I am going to wait for Disney to make a sports movie about Cleveland – how about a movie about Brian Sipe and the “Kardiac Kids”?

The Upside: A well acted feel good story that paints a great picture of the affection between the city of Philadelphia and its hometown team, making for an enjoyable two hours at the movies.

The Downside: The story may be a little too feel good in many ways, with only a small amount of forced drama thrown in just to keep it moving.

On the Side: Greg Kinnear researched his role by spending time with Dick Vermeil during his final year as the Head Coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Final Grade: 3 Stars

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About Neil Miller