on August 25, 2006 by Wade Major
While underdog sports films have been around almost since the inception of the movies, it's only within the past few years that Disney has attempted to transform the genre into a virtual cottage industry. “Miracle,” “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” “Remember the Titans,” “Glory Road” and “The Rookie” were all conceived and constructed to mine the same audience: families seeking inspirational stories about real-life sports heroes who triumphed against incredible odds. Impressively, each of the films has, to varying degrees, managed to work on its own terms despite the obviousness of the formula and the utter predictability of the outcome.

“Invincible” is an apt case in point. The remarkable true story of a Philadelphia bartender and part-time teacher named Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) who, in 1976, secured himself a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles football team after an unprecedented public tryout, this debut directing effort from “The Fast and the Furious” cinematographer Ericson Core doesn't exactly take chances, but neither does it play the audience for dupes. Core and screenwriter Brad Gann are clearly aware that they're working within narrow genre parameters, so rather than attempt to generate suspense or anticipation where there clearly can't be any, they shine a spotlight on the characters. The story may nominally revolve around Wahlberg's puppy dog-eyed Papale, but it's the supporting cast -- Greg Kinnear as freshman coach Dick Vermiel, Elizabeth Banks as Vince's lady love and Kirk Acevedo, Michael Rispoli and standup comic Dov Davidoff as his neighborhood buddies -- who give the picture its heart and soul.

The underlying theme, of course, is the same as always -- sufficient doses of self-confidence and determination will always trump physical talent. As tired and incredibly untrue as that adage may be, “Invincible” manages to sell it convincingly for about 105 minutes, largely because it doesn't oversell Papale as a hero. Vince needs Vermiel, and Vermiel needs Vince. And, in the magic of the moment, circumstance and more than a little bit of luck, play ably into both their laps.

For all its paint-by-numbers plotting, there's nothing unduly irritating about “Invincible,” either in execution or in marketing -- it's precisely the film it was meant to be, precisely the film that's being marketed, precisely the film its core audience expects it to be. Well shy of greatness, to be sure, but entirely successful in every other intended respect. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Conway, Michael Rispoli, Kirk Acevedo, Dov Davidoff and Michael Kelly. Directed by Ericson Core. Written by Brad Gann. Produced by Gordon Gray & Mark Ciardi and Ken Mok. A Walt Disney release. Drama. Rated PG for sports action and some mild language. Running time: 105 min
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