Movie review by Greg Carlson

The appealing “Invincible” notches another accomplishment in the Disney sports movie playbook. Another pure formula re-write of the underdog-to-hero myth, the movie is a sure-fire crowd pleaser, its release ideally timed for launch just ahead of the upcoming NFL season. For the pro sports league and the Mouse House, the movie is also a match made in heaven; fortunately for the cinemagoer, “Invincible” is also less pretentious than many of its celluloid kin. Massaging the unbelievable but true tale of Vince Papale, a working class bartender who miraculously made the roster of the 1976 Philadelphia Eagles through an open tryout offered by new coach Dick Vermeil, filmmaker Ericson Core and his team make all the right moves.

Infused with a penchant for tacky period detail, from the wallpaper to the wigs, “Invincible” immediately sets its thematic sights on the parallel between Philadelphia’s mid-70s blue collar woes and the losing ways of its once-proud Eagles. Director Core, a veteran cinematographer who served as his own director of photography on “Invincible,” captures the gritty deflation with an expert eye. Core has in Mark Wahlberg a terrific choice as Papale, as the performer’s ability to combine innocence with sadness (as evidenced in some of his best performances, in films like “Boogie Nights” and “I Heart Huckabees”) perfectly suits the tone of the movie.

Complementing Wahlberg is Greg Kinnear as Vermeil, freshly hired from his Rose Bowl victory with the UCLA Bruins. Brad Gann’s screenplay parallels the uphill battles of the two men, charting their self-doubt as they attempt to transform themselves from outsiders to accepted members of the team. One wonders to what extent the hostility of the other players was exaggerated for dramatic effect, but Core generally does a more than serviceable job of keeping invented, over the top, confrontations out of the frame.

The oft-repeated information that Papale was, at thirty years of age, considered something of a dinosaur, will remind viewers of “The Rookie.” It also enhances one of the film’s chief attractions: the subjective placement of the audience member in the place of awestruck Papale. Particularly impressive are the adrenaline-fueled trips through the tunnels of massive stadiums to the brightly-lit gridiron. Core offers just enough shots of Vince’s point-of-view to treat the viewer to the sensation of being in the big game. Even though the movie dials down the level of bone-crushing hits when compared to other football flicks, the restaging of plays always feels authentic (clips of the real Papale in action are included at the conclusion of the film).

“Invincible” includes a less effective subplot tracing Papale’s budding relationship with fellow bartender Janet, an almost too-perfect woman (Elizabeth Banks, playing a tough, funny, and sensitive beauty with a head crammed full of football statistics). Banks manages to make the most of a slim role, and to be fair, the script barely tries to invent any reason why Vince and Janet shouldn’t be together. The other performers, including Michael Rispoli, Kevin Conway, and Kirk Acevedo ably fulfill the Philly roughneck stereotype. It is too early to tell whether “Invincible” will join “Rudy” as one of the quintessential football movies, but like Papale himself, it certainly has a shot.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 8/28/06.

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