Movie Review: ‘Draft Day’ not a first-round pick

“Draft Day” is about as interesting as you’d expect, given the somewhat tepid subject matter.

I don’t know about you, but the NFL draft doesn’t exactly whip me into a frenzy. I mean, it’s kind of like making a film about Tax Day. Or Earth Day or Arbor Day, or something like that.

Directed by one-time hotshot Ivan Reitman (“Meatballs,” “Stripes,” “Ghostbusters,” “Dave”), “Draft Day” stars Kevin Costner as Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver, who is working to concoct a winning new team on the titular occasion.

The question of who he’ll get in his first-round pick hardly generates enough tension for a two-hour film, and one can almost hear the writers banging together the beams and girders of the plot mechanics:

Costner’s girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) has just announced she’s pregnant. His father recently passed away, after being dropped from the Browns staff by Weaver himself.

His mother (Ellen Burstyn) naturally insists on Dad’s will being read – and his ashes being strewn – on the very same day as the NFL draft. (Trust me, this plot strand has little emotional impact and even less credibility.)

At loggerheads with his head coach (Denis Leary) and his fumbling new intern, Weaver also is told by the team’s owner that his job is on the line if he can’t pull off something splashy in the draft.

(Slightly ironic coming from Frank Langella, about as un-splashy a bad guy as you can find nowadays; doesn’t he ever get tired of playing the heavy?)

As you can see, Reitman has loaded the film with reliable performers: It also features Chi McBride, Chris Berman, Chadwick Boseman (of last year’s “42”), an unbilled Sean Combs and Patrick St. Esprit, extremely effective as manager of the Seattle Seahawks. And this careful casting pays off nicely, bringing more lifelike vitality to the characters and conflicts than the script really earns in many spots.

All this padding in cast and storyline bears an aura of artificiality – which in turn is not helped by the occasional sense that we’re watching a long and very polished commercial for the National Football League: The film boasts enough logos for three or four T-shirt shops; and every 15 minutes or so, we’re whisked off to some other team’s head office, with flashy shots of the city and its stadium behind blazing intertitles (“Houston – Home of the Texans,” etc.).

Yet darned if the film doesn’t work pretty well in its final moments, when Weaver’s trading and risky gambits pay off handsomely for his struggling team. It helps, of course, that the Browns are among the NFL’s most lovable underdogs; this plot simply wouldn’t work with someone like the Niners, the Patriots or the Steelers.

It’s tough to imagine anyone actively disliking this smooth, genial and well-intentioned off-season sports film; but on the other hand, it’s impossible to think of anyone going nuts over it either.

Call it a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

2 1/2 stars out of 4.

Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language and sexual references