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Punt, Pass, Snore 

Please bear with me -- I have to get this thought out of my mind: It's hard to believe that anyone had the guts to make a movie about a guy named Vince and title it Invincible. It's enough to make you ... here it comes ... wince.

But never mind that peccadillo -- it's the least of this film's problems. Invincible is the latest in an endless series of true "inspirational" sports stories that Hollywood likes to pump out with regularity. Sometimes it works, but not very often. And Invincible is certainly no Friday Night Lights.

In this version of the tale, Mark Wahlberg plays Vince Papale, a nice guy from South Philadelphia who, along with most of his pals in the mid-1970s, was having a tough time getting by -- not enough work to go around and too much drinking at the local bar. These losers were joined, at least in spirit, by their beloved NFL franchise, the Philadelphia Eagles, which was then in the midst of a grand old slump.

Enter UCLA coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear, spouting off flat pep speeches and wearing really bad pants), hired by the Eagles to turn them into winners. Vermeil knew the power of good public relations and decided to hold open tryouts, suggesting the possibility that anyone could make the team.

So we've got 30-year-old Vince, a schoolteacher and bartender, who's out of work and whose wife has just left him, but who knows how to catch and run and save the day at every local sandlot football game with the guys. It won't surprise anyone that he tries out and survives cut after cut and ... well, there's no point in giving away an ending that everyone will know is coming well before they sit down.

What's really odd about all of this is that Vince's story isn't very interesting, and there's certainly nothing inspirational about him. He's just one of the guys, a regular Joe with a little bit of talent, who was in the right place at the right time. This is a story that suggests it has a hero at its center. Unfortunately, bland Vince (blandly played by Wahlberg with either a scowl or a hurt puppy look on his face) isn't the kind of guy you'd bother to root for.

The film isn't worth cheering for, either. It was most likely made for hardcore sports fans, who think of football as a religious experience and will go to any movie featuring it. But when it gets down to business and plunks its cameras down in the middle of a few games, everything becomes hard to watch. A different film stock is used for the action sequences, and though it's not written about in any of the film's publicity, I believe the film is speeded up a little, probably with the idea of making it more exciting, though all it does it make viewers dizzy. Things don't get any better when the fast-motion reverts to the old clich & eacute; of slow-motion.

Or maybe the film was supposed to be of interest to movie crowds in Philadelphia, where that great fictional underdog of moviedom, Rocky Balboa, ran up some steps and sparred in some rings. Remember, though, that Rocky lost the decision in that first fight. No such irony is on display here.

This is a film with no surprises. There's constant, mindless sports talk at the bar where every out-of-work cardboard cutout guy in town spends the wages he doesn't have. And that talk sounds forced, scripted, and certainly not real.

Watch out when the bar's owner, who's charitably given Vince some part-time work, hires his niece, Janet (Elizabeth Banks), to help dole out the beer. What do you think -- will there be some sort of romantic involvement? Better yet, do we want any? Banks is so heavily made up, her skin actually glows when standing next to the downtrodden stumblebums she's serving. A stretched-out plotline has her turn out to be an unabashed New York Giants fan, which causes a few yucks among the gung-ho Eagles nuts, then loses steam but won't go away. There's a chance that all of that could be forgiven, but a much larger problem remains: There is no chemistry between Wahlberg and Banks, and not one second of their scenes together rings true.

If one thing stands out, it's the film's unrelenting earnestness, another component that wears out its welcome early, then only gets more intense. And because this is set in the mid-'70s, the filmmakers have filled it to the brim with the pop music of the day, mostly in action scenes that don't need the help of the James Gang, Grand Funk Railroad and Ted Nugent. If you do manage to sit through the whole film, you have to listen to Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Let It Ride." Twice.

Invincible
Rated PG
Directed by Ericson Core
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks

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