Review: Invincible

A part-time bartender recently canned from his teaching job, Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) is a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan with little hope for the future. With a new coach, Dick Vermeil (a winning Greg Kinnear), looking to shake up the loser franchise for the 1976 season, the team offers anyone a shot at the starting line-up with citywide tryouts. When Papale impresses Vermeil with his abilities, he gets his chance at the big time, instilling his economically depressed neighborhood with hope it hasn't seen in years.

Walt Disney Studios certainly has massaged some success out of the underdog, true-life sports genre. With the baseball drama "The Rookie," the inexcusable basketball sermon "Glory Road," and the near-perfect hockey anthem "Miracle," the cameras now turn to football ... er, sort of.

"Invincible" (IMDb listing) isn't so much about the minutiae of the game as it is about the men who long to play. The backdrop of Papale's journey is the crumbling working class life in Philadelphia, forcing breadwinners into beer-soaked depression, and dividing friends when success comes knocking on only a select few doors. Screenwriter Brad Gann hugs close to these men as they watch Papale live their dream of accomplishment, and bring hope to the neighborhood that formed their unbreakable bond. "Invincible" impressed me by this decision to stick with the characters (and a love story with the appealing Elizabeth Banks, playing a dreaded Giants fan) instead of slathering on the hard-hitting gridiron action.

This being Disney, "Invincible" shows no shame in pursuing audience-pleasing formula. If Papale were to reach out to a dying fan and cure his cancer with a single touch after scoring a winning touchdown, I wouldn't have blinked. "Invincible" is solely an uplifting story about life. I respect that, and I'm tickled when any film has the desire to reach beyond its limited goals to hit the emotional core. "Invincible," with a nicely internalized lead performance by Mark Wahlberg, does just that. It isn't classy or intricately thought out, but much like Papale, it has heart and a gracious aura about it that is hard to frown upon.

When the action does turn to football, director Ericson Core crafts a valentine to the '70s-era NFL, long before greed and ego began to waste away the sport into the cancerous sour ball it is today (it's truly telling that they had to go back 30 years to find a friendly story like this). These men played football as their job, and they fought for every last yard, led by their coaches in a weekly war that required respect and dedication. "Invincible" uses moments of football not only to show Papale's immense struggles as an outsider, but as something operatic for the neighborhood boys to hide within while the cruel real world waits patiently outside their doors.

It's also a treat to see a film like this not end with a "big game" scenario that places an entire dynasty on the line. Here, the climactic game is a home opener for the Eagles, and it contains the same level of earth-shattering importance as any old Super Bowl event. Now, there's something resembling a break from the norm that I can get behind.

"Invincible" won't surprise you in story, performances, or resolution; however, give it a chance, and it might sneak up on you. Vince Papale's true life tale of a long shot dream come true is everything Hollywood could wish for, and the script is pitched just softly enough to keep those pesky yelps of originality at bay. It's a charmer.

Filmfodder Grade: B+