Jarv’s Birthday Series: Invincible (2006)
Well, I’m now into the home straight, and I’d just like to put the previous horrible run behind me. So, as I come to the last 6 years that I’ve graced the planet and made everything just a little bit better for everyone, I’d like to start with an actual good film rather than some of the dogs that I’ve sat through. Invincible (release date 25th August 2006 in America), which I watched post-Sunday Roast, may just fit that bill.
Invincible is a 2006 Disney true story of sorts. I’m not going to whine about “Waaah, not true, that didn’t happen” because I think that does what is essentially a heartwarming Cinderella story a great disservice. Invincible purports to be the biopic of 1970’s Philadelphia Eagles footballer Vincent Papale, and how he went from being a barman in South Philly to playing for his beloved Eagles.
This is the true story of Papale (well, Wikipedia’s): he was actually playing for a semi-pro side, and was scouted by legendary Coach Dick Vermeil and invited in for a meeting. He had three successful seasons with the Eagles, before an unfortunate injury forced him into retirement at the age of 33. The facts that are interesting here are that he was a barman, and he was indeed from South Philly.
This, being a film, can’t possibly play out like that. It simply isn’t rags to riches enough. Here, Papale (Mark Wahlberg) is a poor blue-collar sap who’s life is falling apart round his ears. He’s just been laid off from his teaching job, and his wife has handed him the most savage divorce note ever. It basically says “you’re a loser and will never amount to anything”. Anyway, Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) is appointed head coach of a terrible Philadelphia side, one that Vince and his friends have season tickets for, and has limited time to turn them around. Invincible changes the truth by having him hold an open trial and then selecting Vince, and then integrating him into the more disciplined system he’s trying to put into place. The film culminates with Papale making the grade and scoring a heroic touchdown against the hated Giants.
We all know how these films work. There’s an inevitability to the outcome, Papale is always going to make the grade. So, therefore, the worth of them is measured in how effective they are, and how heartwarming they are. The script is a mine of clichés, but this is to some extent to be expected. For example, Vince gets his mojo back by playing Football with his mates in a sandlot in the pissing rain, thereby rediscovering his love for Philly and the game. Or Vince struggles to be accepted by the professional players, but eventually wins them over through hard work etc.
A lot of the success of these films, therefore, rests on the actors. Wahlberg is surprisingly good as Papale, although his character is little more than a sweet-natured dolt. He’s pushed into trying out against his better instincts, and Wahlberg does manage a bit of steely resolution to stay there. However, Kinnear is on good form, and the scenes with Vermeil and Papale together are the acting high-points of the film. The two actors have good chemistry together and there’s a surprising warmth to these moments. The other performance worth mentioning is Elizabeth Banks as future Mrs. Papale Janet. She’s a sparky and playful presence in the film, and really does elevate proceedings. Actually, the film really does spark to life when she’s involved- sending him the Giants Shirt for example is a moment, a playful and meaningful joke between two people coming to care for each other. I also loved the sequence where she’s wearing her Giants top in the Philly fans section. This is a genuinely funny scene, and has a certain ring of truth to it.
The other point worth noting, and this is always an interesting observation, is that there’s something inherently cinematic about American Football. They may be big, roid-addled goons, but the stop start nature of the sport and the way the plays split down is almost ready-made for the big screen. We know that Vince, as part of Special Teams, spends the majority of each game riding the pine express, but through the magic of film we get to see every big hit, every tackle, and every key pass. In real life, of course, this is over the course of about three hours, but on the screen as a highlights reel, it works an absolute treat.
On the downside, yes, there is one, there are some blatant sympathy grab scenes that don’t really work properly and one truly groan-inducing moment. The scenes involving his father are the worst offenders, particularly the final moment in the bar where the grizzled old geezer wipes a tear from his face and says “that’s my son”. This is a touch too much for me.
Nevertheless, being rude about this film is like kicking a puppy that’s come up to you, tongue hanging out, begging for your love. I’m not that bastard, and I have to say for a film that I knew nothing about, I did find myself enjoying it on a Sunday Afternoon. Overall, I’m going to be generous here. Invincible is a nice, well acted, clichéd little film that did indeed warm the cockles of my heart. Rags to Riches stories are ten a penny, but Invincible is a shiny, pleasant and, dare I say it, really enjoyable diversion. I give it 3 Steroid needles out of 4, and I have to say that of all the films on this list this is probably the nicest surprise.
Of course, I say that because Reform School Girls was always going to be awesome.
Next up is War a Jet Li and Jason Statham effort that I’ve seen about 5 times and still can’t really remember. Which is terrible, because I watched it most recently about 2 days ago.
The full list in this series:
- 1978 – The Driver (3 out of 4)
- 1979 – Life of Brian (4 out of 4)
- 1980 –Xanadu (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1981 – An American Werewolf in London (4 out of 4)
- 1982 – Class of 1984 (3 out of 4)
- 1983 – Fire and Ice (1 out of 4)
- 1984 – Cal (1/2 out of 4)
- 1985 – Teen Wolf (3 out of 4)
- 1986 –Reform School Girls (2.5 out of 4)
- 1987 – Dirty Dancing (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1988 – Married to the Mob (1 out of 4)
- 1989 – Millennium (1 out of 4)
- 1990 – Darkman (3 out of 4)
- 1991 – Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (2 out of 4)
- 1992 – Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1993 – Hard Target (3 out of 4)
- 1994 – Natural Born Killers (1 out of 4)
- 1995 – Desperado (3 out of 4)
- 1996 – Freeway (2.5 out of 4)
- 1997 – Mimic (2.5 out of 4)
- 1998 – Blade (3.5 out of 4)
- 1999 – Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1 out of 4)
- 2000 – Bring it On (1 out of 4)
- 2001 – Heartbreakers (0.5 out of 4)
- 2002 – Sim0ne (2 out of 4)
- 2003 – My Boss’s Daughter (Orangutan of Doom)
- 2004 – Exorcist: The beginning (1 out of 4)
- 2005 – The Cave (0.5 out of 4)
- 2006 – Invincible (3 out of 4)
- 2007 – War
- 2008 – Death Race
- 2009 – Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
- 2010 – Piranha 3D
- 2011 – Conan the Barbarian