Invincible (2006)


(director: Ericson Core; screenwriters: Brad Gann/based on the life story of Vincent Papale; cinematographer: Ericson Core; editor: Jerry Greenberg; music: Mark Isham; cast: Mark Wahlberg (Vince Papale), Greg Kinnear (Dick Vermeil), Elizabeth Banks (Janet Cantwell), Kirk Acevedo (Tommy), Kevin Conway (Frank Papale), Michael Kelly (Pete), Michael Rispoli (Max), Michael Nouri (Leonard Tose), Dov Davidoff (Johnny); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Mark Ciardi/Gordon Gray/Ken Mok; Walt Disney Pictures; 2006)

“It’s Rocky with shoulder pads.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Crowd-pleasing rah-rah-rah formulaic sports underdog story, about a bartender’s gridiron dream. It’s taken from real events and produced by those family value folks at Disney. It’s Rocky with shoulder pads. First-time director and cinematographer Ericson Core gets the blue-collar dream right and keeps it inspiring; placing it on the level of such tantalizing sports films as Hoosiers, The Rookie, Rudy and Miracle. It’s written by Brad Gann, who bases it on the life story of Vincent Papale.

In 1976 Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) was a 30-year-old living in South Philadelphia, unhappily married for five years (wifey soon splits over hubby’s employment failures in a downtrodden Philly) and surviving the bad times as a substitute schoolteacher (recently let go because of the budget cuts) and part-time bartender. The passionate Eagles fan suffers through the 1975 losing season with his woeful Eagles, and the snazzy dressed team owner Leonard Tose (Michael Nouri) brings in successful UCLA coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) just after his Rose Bowl victory. Dick decides to shake things up and holds open tryouts prior to the 1976 season, with the only participant to make the team being the wide receiver and special team player Vince–who never played college football.

The film takes you through Vince’s training camp, where the inexperienced Vince shows the coaching staff he has heart as he battles through the hostility of the veteran teammates, the roughness of the game, the anxiety of surviving the final cut and the first two games of the 1976 season against a great Dallas Cowboy team and their home opener against their arch rival the N.Y. Giants. When not playing football with the pros, Vince plays on an empty lot with his neighborhood bar team, hangs out with kindly bar owner Max (Michael Rispoli) and the neighborhood bar boys, and begins a sweet romance with the new barkeep Janet (Elizabeth Banks). The pretty blonde is a sports nut and a Giant fan (her only shortcoming to Vince’s crew), who was raised in New York. The end credits tell us Vince married Janet and has a few kids, and now lives in New Jersey. Vince lasted three years with the Eagles, as his long-shot dream of playing for them is realized.

Wahlberg’s naturalistic performance gives the film its genuine look and keeps it sincere; while Kinnear’s understated performance gives you a realistic idea of what it’s like to be a coach in the NFL. The director does a good job keeping the historical details nearly accurate; though the story is all too familiar and predictable it, nevertheless, manages to avoid going mushy while showing what Vince’s story really meant to many in Philly during that time frame and what it always means to the couch potato. An appropriate Jackson Browne soundtrack keeps the film grounded in that mid-1970’s anxiety-ridden mood for the working class, while Jim Croce’s song “I Got a Name” sums up what it’s all about for Papale.