True Story: in 1976, a down-on-his-luck schoolteacher named Vince Papale attended an open tryout for the Philadelphia Eagles, and against all odds, this complete novice made the team, becoming the oldest rookie in NFL history and an international hero. But more than just an underdog story, Papale went on to inspire his hometown to rekindle their winning spirit.
Disney is quickly turning out a nice little cottage industry of inspirational sports movies. 'Invincible' is the latest in a string of feel-good jock flicks, from the blockbuster 'Remember the Titans' to such recent hits as 'The Rookie,' 'Miracle' and 'Glory Road.' Given the success of these films, I can't begrudge the studio from returning to the same well yet again, even if the come-from-behind formula and rousing big game climax cliches are wearing a bit thin.
Let's face it, we already know how the story is gonna end. It doesn't really matter if Papale (Mark Wahlberg, with a really bad wig) wins or loses. It also doesn't matter what happens during the film's first 30 or so minutes, as we already know going in he's gonna make the team, so there is no tension or suspense. Instead, what's really fun about a movie like 'Invincible' is the details. We want all the cutesy, uplifting scenes they advertised in the trailer: Papale first learning he made the cut as it is broadcast on the TV in his local hangout; the aw shucks moment when he walks into the bowels of the Veteran's Stadium for the first time and sees his name misspelled on his locker; and finally, the tear-jerking scene when he locks eyes with Janet Cantrell (Elizabeth Banks), and you just know they are finally gonna admit they love each other. Yeah, it's all contrived and overblown and ridiculously larger-than-life. But this is Disney, this is an inspirational sports movie, and this is what Hollywood is all about.
If the strength of 'Invincible's conventions are irrefutable, the movie is not infallible. I was surprised how wasted Greg Kinnear was in his role as besieged Eagles coach Dick Vermeil. This guy is getting it from all sides as the team continues to rank as one of the lowest in the NFL -- the management is riding him, the city's barstool critics want him canned, and even the lovable crew of motley players are quietly doubting his leadership. I actually found his story far more compelling than Papale's, who is presented in the film as such a lovable underdog that he practically comes across as a saint. And was it Papale who eventually propelled the Eagles to such grand success, or Vermeil? Kinnear also gives such a complex and nuanced performance that I found far more riveting than Wahlberg's. So it is a shame the film doesn't do more to at least interconnect their storylines, instead of having them feel like two separate, and unequal movies.
Of course, this matters little by the time the film's big finish rolls along. But still, 'Invincible' lacks true dramatic heft because the "challenges" Papale overcomes really just seem like a bunch of lucky breaks. His is an incredible story, yes. But ultimately, the film seems less interested in Papale's accomplishments as a football player than in the fact that he played football at all. I was still inspired enough by 'Invincible' to cheer for the guy in the end, but not because he accomplished the impossible, but instead because he just seemed like one lucky son of a bitch.
Disney presents 'Invincible' in 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p/MPEG-2 video, and the results are golden. Literally. I've never seen a transfer with such a gold sepia-toned tint to it -- and it never lets up throughout the film's 104 minutes. Contrast is also bumped up significantly, which hardly helps lend an air of authenticity to the proceedings, resulting in a slightly dark cast. But flash and style aside, technically the presentation is excellent.
A pristine source displays not a single speck of dirt, with only some video noise obvious on solid backgrounds. Oddly, for some reason greens seem to suffer the worst -- check out the shot early on of Greg Kinnear standing in front of a very ugly puke-green concrete wall, which seems alive with fuzz. Otherwise, colors are again desaturated and yellowed out, but solid and consistent. Detail holds up nicely, with great depth to an image that is razor-sharp. There is a bit of crush to the deep blacks, which lessens shadow delineationto a very slight degree.
Interestingly, 'Invincible' also makes a nice workout disc for the 3:2 pulldown capabilities of your Blu-ray player and/or HDTV monitor, as it is filled with fast-moving scenes of players running in front of crisscrossing fences and umpteenth shots of gated locker rooms. Happily, my PlayStation 3/Sony XBR2 combo handed it masterfully, without any noticeable motion artifacts or jaggies. Overall, 'Invincible' is a great-looking disc.
Disney also offers up an uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track (48kHz/16-bit) that delivers nicely. Granted the mix is not terribly aggressive (even in the football scenes), but it is lively enough to remain consistently engaging throughout.
Surrounds deliver some nice localized effects, with most of the tackles accompanied by big whumps and thumps in the rears. The nostalgic '70s rock tunes that permeate the soundtrack benefit from punchy bass and quality stereo separation, which keeps the pace moving as there really isn't much of a score to the picture. Dialogue reproduction is top-notch throughout and perfectly balanced in the mix. Tonal quality is also sweet, with a very warm and clear sound field across the entire frequency spectrum.
As Disney's latest BD-50 Blu-ray release, the studio was able to pack in the same number of extras as the standard-def version. It is not a huge amount of goodies, however, with the main attraction a single 26-minute documentary, "Becoming Invincible: The Story of Vince Papale." Featuring interviews with the real-life (and still-grinning) Papale, fellow NFL luminaries and rah-rah plugs from Mark Wahlberg and other members of the cast and crew, it is an undeniably upbeat story. Admittedly, Papale's record on the field is less spectacular than the fact that he was on the field at all, so the doc sometimes seems to be stretching the "Papale as icon" thing. But kudos to the guy, as he remains a beloved local figure in Philadelphia and is like the Easter Bunny of pro football.
If you're interested in the production of the movie, there are two audio commentaries included in this release. Unfortunately, the first track with Papale, producer Mark Ciardi and screenwriter Brad Gann replicates some of the info in the doc. But it is still the better bet of the two, as Papale is more forthright here about hardly being a saint -- he did what just about anyone would do in the same situation, namely partied as hard as he played. He also talks about how his career was eventually sidetracked by an injury -- hardly 'Invincible,' huh? The second track with director Ericson Core and editor Jerry Greenberg is where all the nuts and bolts production info is, from working with the cast to recreating the '70s period details to the surprising amount of CGI work in the movie. A typical director track, and I have to admit to nodding off a bit near the end.
No theatrical trailers or other promo materials are included.
'Invincible' is another in Disney's growing line of feel-good, inspirational sports movies. It is neither the best nor the worst of the bunch, just a rousing, always-entertaining flick suitable for the whole family. This Blu-ray release is mighty nice as well -- a very golden-hued but detailed transfer and hefty soundtrack are supported by a solid lineup of extras. Definitely worth a rent for sports aficionados, and a recommended purchase for fans of the film.