By Joe Lozito
"Invincible", the true story of Vince Papale, the 30 year-old substitute teacher and bartender from South Philadelphia who in the mid-70s is picked to play for his beloved hometown Eagles, is ripped straight from the Disney, feel-good, underdog sports movie playbook. And as such, it can take its place along side "Remember the Titans", "The Rookie"
and to a lesser extent "Miracle". Yes, they've made this movie about a hundred times, but when it's done well (as it is here), it still works.
With the exception of the forgettable and frankly incongruous title, the script by newcomer Brad Gann hits all the right notes. When we first meet Vince, he has trouble at home, at work and financially. Add to that, his beloved Eagles are coming off an abysmal 4-10 season. When newly-appointed head coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear continuing his streak of quality work) announces open tryouts, Vince is slowly coaxed onto the field. The rest is sports history.
Mark Wahlberg's appealing but limited range fits Vince well. And his by now trademark physique also fits the role (though it's never explained how he cultivated said body since his workout routine appears to consist solely of jogging). There are also some fine performances from the supporting cast, particularly from Elizabeth Banks who has been so memorable now in several supporting roles that she seems scant minutes from breaking out. The actress has an easy, unforced charm that befits the role of a tomboy bartender from a family of five brothers.
Ericson Core, making his feature debut, directs with a sport fan's love of the game. When Vince first walks onto the packed field, the moment is nothing short of Maximus entering the Coliseum for the first time in "Gladiator"
. There are beautiful, sweeping shots of Philly's Veterans Stadium, plenty of crunching helmets and shoulder pads, and lots of slow-motion Mark Wahlberg. "Invincible" is a love song for football, with Vince's success tied directly to the happiness of his struggling hometown bar-mates.
For those who don't know Vince's story, I don't want to give away too much. But perhaps the best part about the film is that Vince is an underdog but he isn't "Rocky". Like Jim Morris in "The Rookie", Vince isn't looking for greatness; he just has a real heart for the game. Which is what makes the title seem ripped from some dead-letter office of disposable movie titles. If anything, what makes Vince - and Mr. Wahlberg's performance - so endearing is his humanity. As the film goes through its familiar paces, it's clear Vince is not invincible at all; he's just a regular guy who gets a shot to play with the pros. The film does have one surprise up its sleeve, and that's in the subtlety of its ending, which proves - like its lead character - that its heart is in the right place.