Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

Director and star George Clooney's game attempt to capture the high-spirited silliness of classic screwball comedies falls flat, in large part because Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly's screenplay lacks sparkle.

1925: College football is becoming an increasingly popular sport, but professional football is languishing. Teams are folding at a frightening rate, and when the ragtag Duluth Bulldogs lose their only sponsor, the team is unceremoniously disbanded, sending the players back to grim jobs in factories, fields and coal mines. Aging Dodge Connelly (Clooney) is even worse off: He's never done anything but play football and no one is interested in hiring a middle-aged man with no experience doing anything useful. Then the resourceful Dodge has a brainstorm: All America has fallen in love with Princeton player Carter "The Bullet" Rutherford (John Krasinski, of TV's The Office), who's handsome, modest, articulate, a hell of a player, and a war hero to boot. Dangling the unheard-of sum of $5,000 a game in front of the young superstar's sleekly avaricious manager, C.C. Frazier (Jonathan Pryce), Dodge secures his services for the Bulldogs and hastily reassembles the team. But there's a hitch: Crack reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) is snooping for a scoop about Carter's WWI exploits -- there's talk that they weren't so heroic -- while pretending to write a glowing profile. A scandal could tarnish the golden boy's luster and scuttle Dodge's brilliant plan. Complicating matters further, both Dodge and Carter are falling for Lexie, a thoroughly modern career gal who's more interested in securing an assistant editor's desk than a romance.

Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly's screenplay kicked around Hollywood in various incarnations for the better part of 20 years before going into production, which may be part of the reason the film doesn't jell. But the bigger issue is that the witty repartee rarely is and the retro slapstick -- particularly the painfully attenuated sequence in which Dodge and Lexie flee a speakeasy with a pack of bumbling coppers at their heels -- just looks dated. While Clooney, Krasinski and Price deliver perfectly pitched performances, Zellweger is painfully miscast: Lexie's snappy patter and razor-sharp comebacks turn to mush in her mouth, and the effortless mix of flinty self-confidence and no-nonsense sex appeal embodied by Katharine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell eludes her. A screwball comedy without a charismatic, smart-talking dame is no screwball comedy at all.