Invincible (2006)

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Review #226 of 365
Film: Invincible (2006) [PG] 126 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $13.50
Where Viewed: United Artists Continental 6, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 25 August 2006
Time: 7:15 p.m.
Soundtrack: Download now from Jim Croce - Invincible - or – order the CD below
Review Dedicated to: Seth R. H. of Philadelphia, PA

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
Well, I am going to start by bestowing a first-time honor on the Disney® film, Invincible, directed by Ericson Core from a script by Brad Gann and starring Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale—the Philadelphia native son, who in 1976 gets called to attend the Philadelphia Eagles training camp after what, at the time, amounted to a stunt-casting open tryout held by new head coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear). The movie's trailer is the first that has ever moved me to tears. Granted, I'm a pretty sentimental person sometimes. Generally, however, movie trailers fail to move me very much if at all. Sometimes they even make me dread seeing a movie—Wickerman's trailer, for example, has me worried. But, Invincible's trailer really hit something. I think it's interesting that a film about a true story that took place back in the middle 70s would seem so timely, urgent, relevant, and necessary today. Maybe the nation isn't facing quite the economic down turn as it faced then; yet, perhaps, the political climate has created an equal degree of discontent, cynicism, and worry about the future in the populace. Well, for a city down on it's luck, with a football team that couldn't win its way out of a paper bag, in comes Dick Vermeil to reignite the team and the passion of the fans with his worth ethic, creative ideas, and inspirational coaching philosophy. Meanwhile, who cannot relate to the story of Vince Papale, the 30-year old bartender from south Philly whose wife of five years one day up and leaves him breaking the news via a rough Dear John letter stating he'd never amount to anything scrawled on what looked like it might have been the back of the Yellow Pages® phonebook. He's got no money and, by all accounts, maybe she was right. The one thing he's good at is playing vacant lot football with his equally ancient-by-professional-sports standards friends. Would he look as good against real NFL® players as he did against a bunch of guys whose hey days of youth, good physical fitness, and stamina were at least a decade in the past? That became the question, ultimately, that Vince had to answer for himself. Ironically, once he had made the team, it seems, he still had a long road to walk before he and the city finally believed in him.

In the end, Invincible, which has one of the most clever and apropos titles of the year, is about the triumph of the human spirit over the doubts we and others create in our minds about our own potential success. The story delves deeply into two areas of this dark aspect of human nature of others that were fascinating to watch and contemplate. The first dynamic is the reaction of Vince's best friends as they encourage him, at first, to attend the open try out no matter the results, "If you are down there for only an hour…" one of his friends tries to convince him, and then they begin to worry he'll succeed against all odds only to desert them for a better life. Of course, the latter part never crosses Vince's mind because he doesn't have any sense that he'll actually be able to make it past the first cut, and he worries more about letting everyone including himself down. His single parent father, Frank (Kevin Conway) says two amazing things to him in the film that speak to this issue. These are the kinds of things a son occasionally needs to hear from his father. To motivate him to try out he says, using his own direct brand of reverse psychology, "I know a lot of the guys have been riding you about going down to the try outs. Maybe this is one of those things you should let go. A man can only take so much disappointment in his life." It's clear that Vince knows this is reverse psychology, but he picks up the point in realizing that the real disappointment would come years later in the regret for not having taken the chance to try out. After all, what can one lose in a try out? Later, when Vince begins to doubt he'll survive to make it to the team after a less than spectacular showing in the preseason games of which, back then, there were an arduous six games, his father says to him, "Look, when I told you not to get your hopes up, didn't mean that I wasn't." I loved this line. Reflecting on it now, nearly makes me weepy again. What a spectacular thing for a parent or guardian to say to an offspring. It encapsulates all of the best, loving advice any grown up could give a kid. It says, "I don't want you to hurt or be disappointed because I love you so much, but I totally and completely believe in your ability to do this." Wow! People in charge of the next generation need to remember this beautiful line. Meanwhile, however, one of his friends in particular, has taken to popping cracks at him at every opportunity and throwing up doubt at every turn. The only explanation again is that out of either jealousy or true affection, he cannot stand the thought of Vince leaving the old neighborhood, effectively abandoning his friends and roots, to become a real football player.

"Invincible comes at the right time with the right message. "
As if the personal psychology and the impact on loyal friends and family weren't enough of a sting, Vince has to deal with the grim realization that his, perhaps, future teammates want him, under no circumstances, to succeed. What groomed professional athlete who has been working since pee wees through high school through summer camps in Nebraska through college through the NFL draft wants to see a walk-on, 30-year old bartender show them up? Probably not too many. Worse, he would be taking away a spot on the team from a friend. Even more awful, he would be really making them look like coddled prima donnas. Rather than seeing the opportunity to help ignite the passion of a city to get them to rally around what had become a perennially losing franchise, rather than supporting a down-on-his-luck guy achieve what is perceived by millions of little boys across the nation as the ultimate fulfillment of the American dream, rather than realizing that actually he might be a great undiscovered player who could help them win some games, they do everything they can to ignore him, belittle him, and begrudge him. This demonstrated quite pointedly their lack of true character which, sometimes unfortunately, comes through loudly and clearly to fans of certain professional athletes. Not all of them are as devoted to the love of the game as they are to their paychecks, fame, glory, power, and prestige. Truly, the psychological pieces become a larger puzzle for Vince to solve in some ways than the physical aspects of this challenge. Along the way, he gets some help from his best friend Max's (Michael Rispoloi) cousin, Janet (Elizabeth "Slither" Banks). While a mortal enemy in that she is a New York Giants fan to the core, she brings a spark of hope and belief that Vince needs deep down.

Invincible comes at the right time with the right message. It is an inspirational and thoroughly uplifting movie for anyone who is down on his or her luck, anyone contemplating major or risky career changes, or anyone in need of advice on how to help support a friend in either of these first two categories. If you are a USAer, who loves football, you'll have an edge on loving this film, but even if you cannot fathom why people would want to put on 50 lbs of pads and try to throw, carry, or kick an egg-shaped leather ball 100 yards past eleven other guys hell-bent on stopping you at any cost, down a muddy grass field in 95˚F degree heat and 110% humidity or -20˚F (with Chicago wind chill factor) frigid wind or in two feet of Green Bay or Cleveland lake-effect snow, watching the look on Vince's face when he scores his first NFL touchdown will make it all perfectly clear why many USAers still consider football to be the most beloved national sport. Mark Wahlberg, who has looked right at home in 70s attire before, really owns this character. My helmet is off to him, Greg Kinnear, the real Vince Papaple, and the real Dick Vermeil for making me believe again.

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Kevin ConwayMichael Rispoli
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Invincible (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]
Possessing the first trailer to ever make me weep, Disney's Invincible, directed by Ericson Core and starring Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale—the 30-year old, down-on-his-luck bartender, who gets called to the Eagles training camp after what amounted to a stunt-casting, open tryout held by new head coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear)—comes at the right time with the right message for a nation that has grown similarly discontented, cynical, and apprehensive about the future as were the citizens of 1976 Philadelphia. To succeed, Vince overcomes his psychological baggage plus that of friends and future teammates before the physical aspects exact their toll. Mark Wahlberg, who has looked at home in 70s attire before, owns this character. My helmet goes off to him, Kinnear, and the real Papale and Vermeil for making us believe again. Invincible inspires, uplifts, and clarifies perfectly why football remains the most beloved sport in the USA.

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