‘Draft Day’ is great for football fans, but nobody else

For the longest time, sports movies basically came in two varieties: sappy, inspirational underdog stories like “Miracle” and screwball comedies like “Major League.”

 For the most part, wide audiences who didn’t necessarily need to be a fan of the sport in question because the sport merely served as context for character-driven drama or comedy could enjoy those films.

However, that changed a bit with the release of “Moneyball” in 2011, which detailed the front office business practices of Oakland Athletics’ general manager, Billy Beane. It was a drama made almost entirely for baseball and math nerds (the two often go hand-in-hand), and it was a financial and critical success.

 Three years later, director Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”) attempts to hit that same note with professional football with “Draft Day” and, for the most part, it’s exactly what die-hard football fans are looking for, without offering much for anyone else.

As the title implies, “Draft Day” takes place entirely on the day of the 2014 NFL Draft, where teams try to find that one player who can save the franchise from a huge group of college stars. Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver, Jr., the fictional general manager of the woeful Cleveland Browns, a team with one playoff appearance in the past 20 years. Weaver, under pressure from the team’s owner, is desperate to make a splash in the draft and bring excitement back to Cleveland.

This desperation brings Weaver to trade his seventh overall pick (along with his next three first round picks) to the Seattle Seahawks, in exchange for the first pick. Now, after having sold the farm, Weaver needs to choose between the passionate, high-character linebacker he wants, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback with personality issues that his owner and city want or the running back (who is a good kid with some legal trouble) that his new head coach wants.

If that doesn’t sound at least a little interesting to you, then you’re probably not in the intended audience for “Draft Day.” Make no mistake; this movie is for the nerdiest of football nerds. Almost all of the drama relates back to the draft somehow, with just a couple of character moments peppered throughout.

One character is a clear reference to former real-life Dallas Cowboys head coach Barry Switzer, while another is obviously a stand-in for Ryan Leaf, a quarterback who ended up being one of the biggest draft mistakes in history in 1998. Costner’s character relates his situation to Joe Montana’s game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII.

As a football fan, it was hard not to enjoy every moment that was clearly there to appeal to those like me. But I suspect others will be lost and bored throughout the film.

Costner deserves some recognition for his performance, which is probably his best in a long time. The story is told in a fairly formulaic fashion and the writing isn’t always fantastic, but Costner’s ability to seem like just a regular guy works great regardless. His character is realistic, a man who wants to do whatever he can to save Cleveland football, not unlike every real Browns GM from the past 15 years.

“Draft Day” stands out as a football film that rarely deals in schmaltz, instead focusing its effort on telling an interesting (if a bit unrealistic) front office story with a solid central character. However, it’s only appealing to an incredibly specific audience.

 Luckily, that audience should have a good time with it.