Sports movies are nothing if not predictable. Surprises aren’t even in the playbook. So to viewers who like knowing how movies end, “Invincible” might fit the bill. But for the rest of us, the film is just be another brick in a football movie marathon.

Angela Cesere
I look super sweet. (Courtesy of Disney)

“Invincible” is the account of real-life Philadelphia Eagles receiver Vince Papale who rose from part-time bartender to NFL star status in the late ’70s. Mark Wahlberg (“The Italian Job”) convincingly plays the 30-year-old Papale, a football fan from south Philadelphia with financial struggles and an absent wife – in other words, without much to hope for.

Papale’s saving grace arrives in the form of Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear, “We Were Soldiers”), new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Hoping to revamp his club, Vermeil holds open tryouts to non-professionals, and the movie quickly unfolds as Papale’s one-man journey from runt to runner.

But all movies suffer when events become too predictable. When Papale struggles with roster selection or expressing his feelings to Janet (Elizabeth Banks, “Catch Me If You Can”), everyone knows that he won’t possibly be kicked off the team or rejected by the girl. The film belabors the obvious when more screen time could’ve been devoted to the development of supporting characters and team dynamics.

Sadly, “Invincible” hardly bothers with characters other than Papale. There are no indications of team spirit – everyone just seems to be waiting around for Papale’s magic to appear. Even off the field, Papale’s many drinking pals are spread too thin for any kind of emotional attachment. And left with the lead and most of the screen time, Wahlberg doesn’t push his acting ability. He looks as though he’s simply going through the motions – are his stone-cold expressions supposed to conceal some inner turmoil? Wahlberg doesn’t make that clear enough, settling for bland frowns of stress and heavy grunting on the field.

Good marketing sense ensures that “Invincible” arrived on the first kick of the football season, and it appropriately screams football in every scene. If a character isn’t talking about football, they’re playing it. Actual game footage is well executed, with some inevitable slow-motion sequences mixed in for maximum crunch effect.

But even good football can’t save the film from weak acting and a narrowly-focused plot. “Invincible” may be about Papale’s life, but there is too much focus on him. Success in life (and in film) doesn’t come from one man alone.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

At the Showcase and Quality 16

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