Invincible (2006) marks the latest in a string of sports-underdog films from Disney, following such hits as 2002’s The Rookie and 2004’s Miracle. This time, we have a film inspired by the real-life Cinderella story of Philadelphia Eagles’ alumnus Vince Papale.
Papale’s story is so similar to that of fictional Philadelphia son, Rocky Balboa, that calling Invincible a remake of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky isn’t much of a stretch. But then, the sports long-shot genre is tried and true, so as far as my enjoyment goes, I have few issues with this film’s formulaic plot.
If you haven’t guessed the story by now, here’s a bit more to chew on. Invincible is set in mid-70’s Philadelphia. Times are tough, with high unemployment and labor strikes casting a pall of misery over South Philly, where Papale (Mark Wahlberg) is struggling through life. He has great friends, and great athletic ability that he showcases in rough-touch football games with those friends. After losing his job as a substitute teacher his wife leaves him, and Papale gets busy tending bar to make ends meet.
Things aren’t going so well for Papale’s favourite team, either. The Philadelphia Eagles have been in a slump for years, and as losing teams do, they hire a new head coach to turn things around. Enter Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear), a former college football coach who’s getting his shot at the big-time with the Eagles. Vermeil wants to shake things up, so he decides to hold open tryouts for anyone and everyone to give their best for a chance to make the team.
Papale’s friends encourage him to try out, and so begins the Cinderella story. But nothing worth doing comes easy, and Papale must overcome not just his personal doubts, but the openly hostile Eagles players who take a long time to realize that while the open tryouts were a stunt, Papale’s presence at training camp is the real deal.
That’s the gist of it. I’m not too familiar with the real Vince Papale story, so I can’t comment on the veracity of this film adaptation, but it’s probably safe to say that the producers tweaked some things to fit their formula. If that’s true, it’s a real shame. While Invincible works very well as another entry in the sports-underdog category, I can’t shake the feeling that the story has been weakened by its adherence to the formula. I feel like this one could have been different, and could have risen above the genre. I guess we’ll never know.
As for what’s here, this is a quality movie. The cast is solid, with Wahlberg (The Italian Job) and Kinnear (The Matador) both turning in fine performances. Wahlberg’s athleticism is very believable, and he also pulls off the down-on-his-luck blue-collar guy routine well. And Kinnear, well, you can tell from clips of the real-life Coach Vermeil that Kinnear has provided an accurate take on the character. These two actors are backed by a fine supporting cast, with highlights being Elizabeth Banks (Slither) as Wahlberg’s love interest (possibly a fictitious addition to the real story?) and Kevin Conway (Oz) as Papale’s father.
Another strong point for Invincible is the football. Obviously, football action sequences are an important aspect of this film, and what’s here does not disappoint. With plenty of bone-crunching, freight-train tackles, and the obligatory slow-motion, stop-your-heart plays, watching Papale on the field gets your adrenaline going.
Despite the formulaic nature of this take on an inspiring, true sports story, Invincible manages to induce cheers. While I would have liked a more rough-edged, true-to-life version of Papale’s rise from a nobody to a respected NFL player, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this film, and I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to a second viewing.
So the film is sports-underdog formula done well. How’s the DVD?
Invincible is presented on one disc, in 2.35:1 widescreen format. I have no complaints about the transfer, as it’s clean as a whistle and sharp as a tack. Colours and contrast both look accurate, though it’s a bit hard to say because of the filmmakers have played around with the overall look to make it feel like the 70’s.
The menu is animated, and scored.
English audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, and it sounds great. All dialogue, music and effects are clear, and the overall sound is good and full. And you’ll really feel the hard hits and tackles in the football sequences, which is nice.
Audio is also offered in French 2.0 surround, while subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
Invincible is a little light on the bonus material. What’s here is good, but we’ve come to expect more on our DVDs, and rightfully so. Here’s the deal:
- Audio commentary: by director Ericson Core and editor Jerry Greenberg. This track isn’t bad as these go, but I preferred the other commentary (below).
- Audio commentary: by Vince Papale, producer Mark Ciardi and writer Brad Gann. It’s a treat to hear the real Papale comment on a film about his life, and it’s also enlightening to hear more of the true story. Definitely worth a listen.
- “Becoming Invincible: The Vince Papale Story”: At about 26 minutes, this featurette packs in a lot of fascinating stuff. Once again the real Vince Papale’s participation is a highlight, along with interview clips of the real Dick Vermeil. Other treats include actual archived footage of Papale in action, and the story behind how this film came to be.
- Trailers: the usual fare, for Invincible and a few other films.
The more I dwell on it, the more I think Invincible is a good movie that with less formula and more reality could have been a great one. The DVD presentation is quite good, with excellent audio and video, and a few quality special features. All told, it would make a decent addition to your DVD collection.