Question: Which of these sports movie characters will Kevin Costner be least remembered for playing?
A. Ray Kinsella in “Field of Dreams”
B. Roy McAvoy in “Tin Cup”
C. Crash Davis in “Bull Durham”
D. Sonny Weaver Jr. in “Draft Day”
Answer: D. And it’s not even close.
“Draft Day,” which opens Friday, stars Costner as Sonny, the general manager of the Cleveland Browns who, under pressure from his owner, trades away his next three first-round picks for the No. 1 spot so he can grab can’t-miss quarterback Bo Callahan.
Shades of the Redskins’ deal to get RG3.
Or the Saints going after Ricky Williams.
What could go wrong?
Immediately Sonny, whose first move as GM the year before was to fire his now-deceased father, the Browns’ longtime and revered coach, has buyer’s remorse, or, more accurately, buyer’s skepticism.
The rest of the film deals with how Sonny, who initially appears in over his head, strives for a successful outcome lest these Browns wind up in the same shape their real-life counterparts usually do.
Sounds promising. And in Costner, the movie has someone whom those who enjoy sports-themed movies are certainly familiar with, thanks to the above-mentioned roles and a few others.
But at age 59, he admits that his days of portraying an athlete are over. In fact, in a conference call last week, Costner joked that before “Draft Day” he hasn’t worn a suit and tie this much in a movie since “JFK.”
And therein lies the problem with “Draft Day.”
While Costner correctly contends that the best sports movies are those that don’t go too heavy on the action, this one takes that notion to the extreme.
Costner’s in about 95 percent of the scenes, and in many of them, he’s speech-ifying in a style remindful of Jim Garrison’s climactic jury summation in “JFK.”
In fact, the only “live” action is a brief scene of what is supposed to be spring practice at Wisconsin, but the Badgers appear to be working out on the school quad or something. Strange.
And while Sonny obviously is the protagonist, there’s little development of the other characters.
That especially includes Jennifer Garner, who plays the Browns’ capologist and happens to be Sonny’s ex, but apparently not that long ago because she’s pregnant with his child.
Take out that last part, and the role could have played by James Garner for all of the spark between the two.
Also, the producers are promoting the acting debut of Houston Texans’ running back Arian Foster as Ray Jennings, the best running back in the draft.
But Foster’s role must have been severely trimmed in the editing because he has hardly any lines.
For that matter, this is a severely unpopulated football universe. One example: Sonny is apparently a one-man personnel department because there doesn’t seem to be any background information on Callahan until he starts digging that day. And the game tape that provides a crucial piece of information is from a TV broadcast instead of the customary coaches’ tapes that teams use.
But this isn’t a documentary. So a little artistic license is allowable.
In fact, the strength of the movie is in its realism.
The NFL gave access to the film’s producers during last year’s draft, and many familiar faces appear as themselves, including Commissioner Roger Goodell, who drew only a couple of boos at a screening in Metairie.
We can’t wait for the first Mel Kiper Jr. Film Festival.
Even better, actual team names and other images are used. That’s contrast from most pro football movies where the Dallas Bulls (“North Dallas Forty”) and Washington Sentinels (“The Replacements”) take the place of the real thing.
“When you’ve got names and jerseys that you don’t recognize, that’s where it loses all appeal to me,” Costner said. “The league is obviously very protective of its brand, but it was vital to have it involved.”
The NFL did have a limited amount of creative control. Costner said a scene in which a rival GM is hanged in effigy because of the trade has been excised because the league felt it promoted bad fan behavior. However, the scene was still in the cut shown at the local screening.
In fact, given some of the obvious budget considerations (Sonny’s team was shifted from Buffalo to Cleveland to save production costs), this movie could have been produced by NFL Films and shown first on Showtime, or with, a few language adjustments, network TV or basic cable.
But it wasn’t. It’s a big screen production, so you have to pay to see it, at least if you want to this weekend.
However, considering the director is Ivan Reitman who gave us “Animal House,” “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters,” “Draft Day” gets a pass. We owe him that.
And given that Costner gave us the immortal Crash Davis, whom he calls his favorite character because, “He’s a rascal, he’s vulgar and he has a true love of the game the way it’s supposed to be played,” we owe him, too.
So if you can’t wait until next month to get your real draft fix, check out this fictitious one.
Just don’t expect the football equivalent of the Church of Baseball.
They don’t make ’em like that anymore.