Man, George Clooney loves the past.
With each film he both acts and stars in, he regresses further and further into American 20th-century consciousness. The whacked-out Chuck Barris biopic "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" had him turning the game-show giant into a '60s-era CIA killer. "Good Night, and Good Luck" was all black-and-white and blazingly liberal, as he told of TV newsman Edward R. Murrow's fight against McCarthyism in the '50s.
Now, in "Leatherheads," he goes way, way back in the Wayback Machine to the mid-1920s, before World War II, before the Great Depression and apparently before people cared about professional football.
Clooney plays Dodge Connelly, a veteran football player at a time when pro football, bereft of rules not to mention fans, is a laughable sport. College football is viewed with much more reverence, with players/national treasures like Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), who is not only a star on a field but a war hero. Connelly hatches a plan to recruit the out-of-his-price-range MVP to play for his team, the ragtag (didn't you see that word coming, folks?) Duluth Bulldogs, in an effort to bring spectators and respect to the game. Once he gets Rutherford onboard, he also gets with Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), a Chicago newspaper reporter secretly assigned to see if Rutherford is truly the all-American patriot he's been trumpeted as.
As you've probably guessed, "Leatherheads" is Clooney's triumphant sports movie and screwball romantic comedy all in one package. Although, with the way the movie seesaws between broad and wily to earnest and straightforward, the movie's tone doesn't necessarily pan out as smoothly as it should.
Even though Clooney makes sure he comes out of this thing as the aloof, athletic star of the show, he's much more engaging when he's playing bumbling and dumbfounded. (Next to good buddy Brad Pitt, there isn't a telegenic star who gets more comic mileage out of how imperfect he is.) He trades flirtatious zingers with Zellweger, as though they're re-enacting their favorite Cary Grant-Rosalind Russell scenes from "His Girl Friday."
Ironically, Zellweger has better chemistry with Krasinski's conflicted hotshot, whose puppy-dog face I'm sure will make ladies in the audience want to curl little Jim Halpert in their laps and take him home with them.
And yet, "Leatherheads" is still something of a goofy, nostalgic trip, with Clooney once again showing he can be Cary Grant in front of the camera and Howard Hawks behind it.
Man, George Clooney sure does love the past.