Here is how "Leatherheads" could have been so much better:
You take George Clooney prior to the start of shooting and you have him watch the original "Longest Yard" and then "Semi-Tough." Just when he has a sense of what a decent sports dramedy can be, you strap him to the chair and force him to sit through "Cannonball Run II" and "Stroker Ace." When he's done screeching like a Girl Scout on a roller coaster you remind him that, much like Burt Reynolds' hairline, the stock character of the zany, hornswoggling playboy with the platinum-plated smile is where 40-something acting careers go to pine for the fjords.
"Leatherheads" is a benign mass of cinematic symptoms in search of a genre diagnosis. Unsure whether it wants to be a slapstick farce, a rom-com, or a sports movie, it attempts all of them and achieves none of them. And even though Clooney (who also directs) spritzes charisma all over the screen, he cannot concoct an appetizing mélange from this clumsily scripted trope factory of speakeasy fracases, Keystone Cop chases, and contrived nostalgia.
Synopsis (no spoiler warning needed): While thousands of cheering fans flock to see collegiate gridiron competitions each week, pro football in the mid-1920s remains a smash-mouth exposition of trick plays, unsportsmanlike conduct, and shattered collarbones. The games are played on cow pastures sided by rickety bleachers thinly populated with drunks, gamblers, and copulating teenagers. The teams—so cash poor they can afford only a single pigskin—are dropping like unprotected quarterbacks. Aging star Dodge Connelly (Clooney), captain of the Duluth Bulldogs, sets out to save his flagging franchise by recruiting WWI hero and college phenom Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski, in a performance every bit as dozy as his desk jockey Jim Halpert on TV's "The Office"). Enter the alarmingly alliterative Lexie Littleton, a cheeky, sass-slinging newspaper reporter played with consumate predictability by Renee Zellweger. Lexie sets out to expose Carter's dark secret, and the chicanery takes off like a fat kid on a Slip 'N Slide.
Studio marketing campaigns to the contrary, the one thing that Leatherheads IS NOT about is football. Shame. This film might have done for prehistoric pro football what "Slap Shot" did for minor league hockey, but the sports scenes in Leatherheads are just a backdrop for the wit-free comedic antics of its stars. Chess, thoroughbred racing, or badminton could have been substituted and it would have been equally as impotent. The movie spends more time noticing Lexie's choice of hats than the details of Jazz Age football, and along the way wastes the talents of some stellar character actors like Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Root.
Ultimately, "Leatherheads" pilfers all the best premises and characterizations of the sports classics from which it derives its theme, and then renders them as useless as a professional wrestling referee—lends authenticity but no one is really paying attention anyway.
Here's some serious old school from Sports Nuts...