George Clooney is the sort of movie star who gets to do what he wants, especially if he's willing to direct himself. In this case the period football comedy Leatherheads had been languishing on the shelf at Universal for decades, and was going to be directed by Steven Soderbergh at one time. Clooney's version is a sweetly daffy valentine to classic Hollywood screwball comedies, Coen brothers comedies and romantic comedies. Clooney stars as a handsome over-the-hill football player who's pretty smart but gets beat up on the playing field and takes plenty of pratfalls and romances a wise-cracking reporter (Renee Zellweger).
Does Clooney have the directing chops of Howark Hawks (His Girl Friday's Rosalind Russell is a model for Zellweger's tough-girl reporter) or the Coens? That's a tall order, but he does use the Coens' storyboard artist, and the film looks great. It could have been a tad sharper and faster and better, and I suspect it will have more appeal to women over 25 than anyone else. Whether the football marketing will alienate them is anyone's guess, and the critics are bound to be mixed. Here's Variety's review.
Universal has been spending heavily on Leatherheads, even giving it a Superbowl send-off spot, but I can't imagine it will make its P & A money back, much less its budget. Which will make it all the more difficult for execution-dependent, overtly uncommercial movies like this to get made. All power to Clooney for having the moxie to go for it, commerciality be damned.
UPDATE: Here's Clooney's interview with Reuters.
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]