Invincible is the latest in Disney’s series of inspirational sports dramas, and it doesn’t stray far from the game plan that made Remember the Titans and Miracle successful: an underdog pursues a seemingly impossible goal, confronting adversity and doubt from those around him, and finally, against all odds, overcomes. There is one crucial divergence here, however, that is a detriment to the film: where the other two movies’ focus was on a community of people, the focus of Invincible is individual, and though the film is entertaining enough it is far from the best of this type of movie. Quite simply, I’ve been here before, but with Sylvester Stallone, Denzel Washington, and Kurt Russell. Invincible is good, but it isn’t good enough to defeat its lack of originality.
It is the loosely-based-on-true-events story of Vincent Papale (Mark Wahlberg, sporting a hairdo that can only be described as a crime against humanity), a thirty-year-old, down-on-his-luck part-time bartender from Philadelphia and a rabid Philadelphia Eagles fan. Papale is in a miserable situation – he is laid off from his job teaching summer school, he has no immediate prospects for employment, and his wife leaves him in particularly vicious fashion. At the urging of several of his bar buddies (Michael Kelly, Michael Rispoli, and Kirk Acevedo, among others), Papale attends an open tryout for the Eagles called by new Head Coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) and, miraculously, makes the team. At the same time, an awkward romance begins between Papale and his friend and bartending boss Max’s (Rispoli) pretty cousin Janet (Elizabeth Banks).
Taken individually, the cast of Invincible is good but not great. Wahlberg, probably best known as an actor for 2003’s The Italian Job, gives a solid performance as Papale, but like so much of the movie, I’ve seen it before, and done better; he is solid, but not inspiring. Greg Kinnear’s fiery and dedicated Head Coach Vermeil is stronger, turning a comparatively minor role into one of the bright spots of the film. Neither Elizabeth Banks nor the usually fine Kevin Conway (Gettysburg; here playing Papale’s father) are particularly good; both are competent, but the chemistry between each of them and Wahlberg is simply not there. Generally, the ensemble of actors playing Papale’s friends are strong, though no one stands out. Fortunately, however, taken as a whole, the ensemble works well together; even though the individual performances are not the stuff of Oscars as a complement they are convincing.
The script, by screenwriter Brad Gann, is probably the greatest flaw, and it is done little justice by director Ericson Core. Throughout the film, there are storylines and incidents – Papales’s broken marriage, the romance between Papale and Janet, the relationship between Papale and the other Eagles’ players, for example – that are not adequately fleshed out, and while Core’s gridiron scenes are convincing and realistic his pacing of the plot is too fast, not leaving room for relationships between characters to flesh out. It is only filming his football scenes that Core’s direction takes off: especially in the final sequence, but throughout the movie the football scenes are realistic and exciting.
Invincible is an entertaining, good enough movie, an enjoyable way to spend two hours, but it is no more than that. It is derivative and unoriginal, but perhaps its greatest sin is that it is not particularly inspiring. As I said earlier, I’ve been here before, but with Denzel Washington. Unless you really want the theater experience, you’d be better off sitting down and re-watching Remember the Titans.