Directed by Ericson Core
Written by Brad Gann
It’s been a while since I tended to my football movie marathon, a year if I recall, but with the quarantine going on, I seem to have a little more time on my hands, which is why I was able to run through the Fast & Furious movies this past month. So as I return to football, I land solely into the mid-00s, which seemed to be a very fertile time for the genre. Lots of movies releasing, as the popularity of the sport on television seemed to also be peaking. With Invincible we also get the combination of the Disney engine and Mark Wahlberg’s popularity. While not an action movie, Invincible seems like the perfect alternative for Markie Mark, a sports movie, even if it’s not set in Boston.
Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) is a bit of a slacker in 1970s south Philadelphia. He plays football with the boys in the yard, and seems to always be running late, which lends itself to why he loses his teaching job, and ultimately his wife of five years walking out on him one night and never coming back. In some ways, his life mirrors that team he loves so much, the Philadelphia Eagles, who have struggled mightily in recent years, to the point that the new head coach (Greg Kinnear) calls for an open tryout. Vince’s buddies at the bar urge him to give it a shot, and while it’s a long shot, Vince may be the only guy at the open tryout worthy of a look for an NFL roster.
What I found early on in this “based on a true story” movie was how much it mirrored things we’ve already seen before. Papale’s journey is basically Rudy in the NFL, where Papale is less likable. We see him struggle to make the team, while “befriending” the rookie head coach who is struggling to adjust to life in the NFL. But none of the relationships explored in this film really grabbed my attention: Papale and his wife, Papale and his coach, Papale and his father, even Papale and his new, New York Giants loving, attraction (Elizabeth Banks). It all felt very surface level and we never got to the depths of the man in order to sympathize with his struggles, making the overcoming all the less impactful.
The football action was alright overall. Most of the interesting stuff came from training camp drills when Vince had to prove himself, and we see him develop his raw skills into being able to truly compete at the NFL level. Once we get to game action, the movie is basically over. This is a film more about the journey than it is the destination, and by not basking in the glory of making it for longer, the film may end in an inspiring moment, but it feels stunted. I would have liked more time to see how Vince made it and sustained it for the three years he lasted in the NFL. Perhaps all the more of a letdown that all the NFL action was on special teams, and we never get the Rudy moment of him finally making it onto the field and recording a reception at wide receiver.
Ultimately, I wanted more out of this film. It feels very slight when looking back. It was fine enough to watch and enjoy on a limited basis, but it was like the very cheap, very fast version of both Rudy and Remember the Titans (in terms of the glossy Disney football movie). Wahlberg is fine, but he’s not the actor who can deliver a performance to get you truly into the shoes of a character. Good performer, but that is slightly different than good actor. I would probably not ever return to this film, there is just not enough meat on the bone to offer anything other than a quick, forgettable thrill with very little depth to come back and peel back its layers.