2006, PG, 128 min. Directed by Ericson Core. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Conway, Mike Rispoli, Michael Kelly.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 25, 2006

Disney loves its inspiring, true-life sports stories – witness The Rookie and Gavin O'Connor's Miracle, which even managed to recycle Disney lifer Kurt Russell – and Invincible is one more firm, competent notch in this most all-American of film genres. The story of Vincent Papale (Wahlberg), a lifelong football fan and backyard pigskin enthusiast who's plucked from the depressed and depressing anti-boom of mid-Seventies Philadelphia and offered a shot at being a bona fide Philadelphia Eagle, Invincible is like a thick, sweaty slab of NFL comfort food. Its themes are inspiring, all right: After Papale's wife (Lola Glaudini) leaves him unannounced, he's fired from his substitute-teaching position, and his beloved Eagles are abandoned by all but the hardiest fans as the losingest team this side of Seattle, Vincent takes a chance and attends an open try-out, itself the brainstorm of incoming coach Dick Vermeil (Kinnear). The event, which draws schlubby, beer-soacked wisenheimers from seemingly every ratty couch in town, is mocked even by the local newscasters, and so when the taciturn Papale actually makes the cut, no one's more surprised than he. Unfortunately, from that point on, Invincible is downright short on football, re-creating only a few clear sequences of gridiron prowess on Papale's part, although what it does show is tough, punchy stuff. Still, this is one footballing epic with nary an epic in sight, unless you count Vincent's growing relationship with New York Giants-loving Janet (Banks, charmingly sassy) and his boozy gang of hardscrabble Southie drinking-and-brawling buddies, winningly headed by peerless character actor Michael Kelly. This is more a film about beating the odds and sticking to your dreams no matter how lopsided they may appear in the light of day, a worthy sentiment but one that, here at least, seems to hamstring the picture's gridiron goals. Invincible's greatest strength, actually, is derived from a wealth of excellent period detail and Core's fine, realistic cinematography. Set against the backdrop of the just-ended Vietnam War, a soul-crushing and economically blighted Philly economy, a looming strike by local Westinghouse workers, and shot through with some clever pop-music touchstones and an appropriately rousing score by Mark Isham, Core's film evokes the grim East Coast vibe that gripped what should have been a red, white, and blue bicentennial era. That the one guy who benefits most is a muscle-bound down-and-outter – shades of Rocky Balboa almost certainly intentional – only serve to give Wahlberg's coy performance that much more elegiac intensity. They weren't the Longhorns, sure, but those Eagles were pretty darn good for a moment.

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Invincible, Ericson Core, Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Conway, Mike Rispoli, Michael Kelly

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