Except during exchanges of rapid-fire repartee.
Dodge Connelly (Clooney), a pro-football player for the Duluth Bulldogs, breezes into a speakeasy with a young floozy. Chicago Daily Tribute ace reporter Lexie Littleton (Zellweger) comments that she thought you had to be 21 to get in. Dodge replies, "She is." Lexie retorts, "I meant her IQ."
Sparks fly with the dialogue written by rookie screenwriters Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, and an undercurrent of sexual innuendo adds some spice. The rest of the romantic comedy resembles the games played clean under the fledgling pro-football league and its expanding slate of rules: boring.
Two story threads converge in the simple plot. Lexie's assignment is to expose the Great War heroics of Carter "The Bullet" Rutherford (John Krasinski of television's "The Office") as "a crock." Now drawing big crowds playing football for Princeton, the handsome "Hero of the Argonne" had single-handedly engineered an against-all-odds German surrender. Fans pack the stadium to cheer for the dashing golden boy.
In an attempt to save the season for his beloved-but-bankrupt Bulldogs and bring more attention to pro-level football, Dodge convinces the college pigskin star to join his ragtag Minnesota team. Why shouldn't Rutherford get paid for his talent instead of paying tuition to Princeton? Attracted by lucrative gate-receipt guarantees, the young man's agent (Jonathan Pryce) seals the deal. Posing as a sports writer, Lexie travels by train with the team to get her story.
The actors play their parts broadly with a wink-wink to the classic Hollywood comedies of the 1930s. It's one thing to refer to the sassy Lexie as a "cocktail that comes on like sugar but then kicks you in the head" or to Dodge as "the slickest operator in Duluth." But the slapstick comedy and mugging that ensue don't do the characters justice. If anything, you'll yearn for the madcap antics that arise from the comic climates of "His Girl Friday" or "Twentieth Century" - both of which demonstrate that actors playing roles seriously can elicit more laughter than those self-aware of the funny business surrounding them.
"Leatherheads" is a curious choice for a Clooney project. After writing and directing a political firebrand such as "Good Night, and Good Luck" and starring in the incendiary "Syriana," one doesn't expect him to endorse bogus war heroes as being good for America. Despite a Hail Mary plot twist as the clock winds down and a feel-good ending, Clooney doesn't win this one.