April 11, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: 'Draft Day' offers two hours of shameless NFL power-branding

Kevin Costner plays general manager Sonny Weaver, who is wheeling and dealing to get the No. 1 pick and rebuild his football team while having an affair with his numbers cruncher, Ali (Jennifer Garner), in 'Draft Day.' (Dale Robinette / Summit Entertainment)

What’s next? “BP: The Big Drill”? “Dow Chemical: A Conglomerate Is Born”? “M&Ms II: Keeping It Crunchy”?

The biggest film of the year so far, by far, has been “The LEGO Movie,” a very witty commercial for a building-blocks toy that has racked up more than $250 million at the domestic box office.

Now comes “Draft Day,” a near two-hour commercial for the National Football League starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner. It contains no mention of lifelong injuries, suicide rates, the ugly effects of concussions, job instability or any of the NFL’s downsides. It’s your basic cheerleading exercise. Audience members shell out $10 to be reminded that they love professional football.

When did corporations and products start getting their own films? More importantly, why did corporations and products start getting their own films? Has Hollywood exhausted all the superheroes, novels, TV shows, potential remakes, true stories and (gulp) original ideas and now it’s just going to turn to commercial products? Can “Crest and the Battle of Brightie Whities” be far behind?

Not that “Draft Day” is a terrible film, just predictable. Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager of the Cleveland Browns, on the first day of the NFL draft. The film essentially follows him as he wheels and deals, giving away future draft picks to move higher up with this year’s choice, bungling, then recovering.

To humanize the process, Sonny is having an affair with his numbers cruncher, Ali (Garner).

To really humanize it further, Ali has just told Sonny she’s pregnant. But wait: To really, really humanize things, Sonny’s deceased father was the Browns’ beloved coach — and Sonny fired him. Now his mother (Ellen Burstyn) wants to spread his ashes over the team’s football field, but Sonny’s too busy wheeling and dealing.

The darndest things happen on draft day.

There’s plenty of comic relief to be had from hapless interns and goof-off assistants. Gruff-tough but lovable wealthy ownership is represented by Frank Langella, while Denis Leary adds a bit of bite as the fast-talking, acerbic coach who thinks Sonny is going down in flames.

But mostly there’s the NFL itself in all its upbeat, rah-rah glory. Chris Berman narrates the televised proceedings, just as he does on the real draft day, and Jon Gruden adds commentary. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell calls out names from the podium and assorted luminaries — Deion Sanders, Jim Brown, Mel Kiper — pop up to lend a sense of reality.

Very little playing of football is actually seen, but that’s OK: We come to praise the brand itself, the actual product is only secondary.

All of this is more or less expertly tossed together by veteran director Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”), although Sonny’s first move of the day remains a head-scratcher throughout the film. And the movie may indeed be rich and rewarding for those avid fans who follow professional football as if it’s a religious experience.

But others may shiver at the precedent this sets. When Hollywood is turning to the corporate world instead of the cultural world for inspiration, when products become productions, when you don’t just have commercials before the movies, but the movies themselves have become commercials, something has gone wrong.

'Draft Day'

GRADE: C

Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language and sexual references

Running time: 109 minutes

tlong@detroitnews.com
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