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A Leatherheads Fumble?

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Nothing like a football movie to make newspaper headline writers happy. No matter what happens, when they do the post-weekend box office story, they'll have plenty of puns available with "fumble" or "touchdown" just being the lowest hanging of the fruit.

And fumble is definitely the winner this weekend. But I have to wonder why that is. Can anybody really be very surprised? I love watching George Clooney on screen, he has outgrown some of his annoying quirks (early on in his movie career he had this head nodding habit that drove me batty) and in terms of persona on and off screen, he is our generation's Cary Grant.

Clooney is the closest I've ever come to watching a contemporary actor and actually kind of say to myself "I wouldn't mind being him." If for no other reason than his ability to wear a suit.

But the fact remains, regardless of how much of a "movie star" Clooney is, he doesn't open movies. Clooney has appeared in 24 movies (19 of them in the last decade) and only 4 have topped the decidedly unimpressive domestic box office of $51 million. The first was in 1997 with the decidedly awful -- so awful that it was joked about in Tilda Swinton's Oscar acceptance speech -- Batman and Robin.

The other three all have the word "Ocean" in the title so you can hardly put their success solely on his shoulders.

Compare this to Tom Hanks with 20 $51 million movies. Or Tom Cruise with 16 (and Magnolia is the only movie he's done in the last 20 years that didn't get at least that much). Julia Roberts with 19. Even Ben Stiller tops him with 11 of them.

But this isn't necessarily a bad thing for George Clooney, because this The Facts of Life alum is steadily creating a filmography that most serious actors would kill for and several of my favorite movies have Clooney in them.

George Clooney may have just about the best taste in projects of anybody in Hollywood. Out of Sight, Three Kings, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? all in a phenomenal three year run and combined they only did $140 million. Intolerable Cruelty is a fabulous biting comedy and actually be second favorite Coen Brothers title. Syriana, Michael Clayton, and Good Night, and Good Luck were well worth the critical accolades (another $130 for the three).

So it really shouldn't be a surprise that Leatherheads didn't fill any seats. It is certainly the most mainstream movie he's done in years (other than the Ocean's sequels) but it also a movie with a pretty narrow conceit. It isn't a modern comedy set in the early days of professional football; instead it is trying to be a movie made in the early days of professional football.

Considering most people people heading to the theater won't even know who Rosalind Russell was, or that Renee Zellweger's is styled on her character in His Girl Friday, it is hard to see how this would appeal to them.

People who blink unfamiliarly at the mention of that movie, or The Lady Eve or Bringing Up Baby or The Philadelphia Story or Harvey or any of the great comedies of the 1940s or early 1950s aren't going to care much for a movie that attempts to recreate their magic.

Is definitely doesn't help that, unfortunately, the movie whiffs completely. I checked it out over the weekend and it just never generates any real interest or reason to care in any of the characters.

The oddest choice of all was to give Renee Zellweger the lines and pacing of a 1940s comedy but to not do so for anybody else. Zellweger's Rosalind Russell has no Cary Grant as her counterpart. There is one moment hinting at what could have been when Clooney and Zellweger first meet in the movie and it perfectly captures the quick snap-snap timing necessary, but it remains just a glimmer.

I love The Office and John Krasinsky is a big part of that. But like so many it appears that TV is his medium. He just looks small up there on the screen with Clooney, Jonathan Pryce, and even Renee Zellweger (who has been lucky more than good through her career).

All that said, though, in a montage showing Clooney riding a motorcycle from Ohio to Chicago he looked so good that for just a few moment I sat there thinking "I really wouldn't mind being him."

And THAT is a movie star.

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