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Mark Wahlberg shines as yet another underdog in football biopic 'Invincible'

Invincible, part three in the "You Can Do Anything If You're Mark Wahlberg!" trilogy, is a good sports-underdog story in the tradition of Rocky and The Rookie.

Part one of the Wahlberg trilogy was Boogie Nights, where Wahlberg rose above being a busboy to screw Heather Graham and make porn. Part two was Rock Star, where Mark fronted a thinly veiled Judas Priest tribute band, only to become the lead singer of the real (thinly veiled) Judas Priest.

Those films were loosely based on true stories, and so is Invincible, inspired by the amazing accomplishments of Philadelphian Vince Papale, who went from teaching to playing in the short-lived World Football League to playing for his beloved Philadelphia Eagles at the age of 30. The movie conveniently skips over the WFL, depicting Papale's rise to fame as much quicker. In the film, he goes from playing football on backlots with his buddies to wowing new Eagles head coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) at an open tryout. (In reality, Papale was spotted playing in the WFL and given a private tryout.)

The film plays around with multiple aspects of the Papale story, and it really didn't have to. Making it to the National Football League is a remarkable story in itself, and Papale's actual route to the big time was an amazing one. That said, the film would've been three hours long if they showed the guy catching passes in the WFL, and the embellishment is forgivable.

Wahlberg is just right for the role of Papale. He's instantly credible as a put-upon, down-on-his-luck guy with above-average, untapped athletic abilities. As he mopes around his Philadelphia neighborhood, Rocky most definitely comes to mind. In fact, that film was wrapping its shoot when Papale made his pro debut against the Dallas Cowboys, and he would earn the nickname of Rocky from his teammates.

Wahlberg has a knack for appearing nervous and overwhelmed. Papale's first appearance at Texas Stadium is excellently staged, with Wahlberg acting like he has vertigo underneath the infamous dome. Kinnear delivers his second decent performance this year (after Little Miss Sunshine) as the coach trying to restore order and honor to the disgraced Philadelphia Eagles. He does a nice job with inspirational speeches (not too corny) and the smackdowns (the one he gives Papale after a screw-up in the Dallas game is fierce).

First-time feature director Ericson Core, a former cinematographer, is successful in catching the essence of football. There are plenty of bone-crunching tackles, and there's a tremendous sense that Wahlberg's actually participating in games. Core also held down cinematographer duties on this one, and while he indulges himself a bit too much at times (a stylized, rain-soaked backlot football game is too hokey), it was a good decision to both man the camera and direct the film.

While the '70s were a bit comical when it came to fashion, films often overdo it and make the decade a caricature. Core and company keep things realistic with the makeup and settings, and the movie works well as a period piece. Wahlberg's hair sports a style similar to the one he wore as Dirk Diggler, his character from Boogie Nights. During a scene where he contemplated himself in a mirror, I half expected Wahlberg to whip it out.

The film's soundtrack features an assortment of '70s rock songs that are decent, not-too-obvious picks. (Jackson Browne's "These Days" is a nice touch.) I've seen a couple of critics complain about the title of the movie, but I think it got its name because "Vince" is actually in the word Invincible. That's my guess.

The next chapter of the "You Can Do Anything If You're Mark Wahlberg!" series will have him starring as an underwear model and singer of shitty music who jettisons his music career to become one of the best actors portraying underdogs today. Wait a minute ... he's made that one already.

Invincible
Rated NR

More by Bob Grimm

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