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Invincible Reviews

A cynically contrived Cinderella story about a 30-year-old, part-time substitute teacher/bartender who becomes a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, this paint-by-numbers fable — which recalls the far better ROOKIE (2002), which is based on a startlingly similar and equally incredible true story about a 35-year-old high-school baseball coach who earned a spot pitching for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays — epitomizes the triumph of inspirational-movie cliches over reality. South Philadelphia, 1976: The combination of a shrinking economy and ballooning inflation has hit college graduate Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) as hard as it has his blue-collar friends, whose once-secure, unionized factory jobs are now under siege. Papale's substitute-teaching gigs dry up because of system-wide budget cuts, his phone is disconnected, and he's having trouble making the rent; swallowing his pride, he asks old friend Max (Michael Rispoli) for bartending shifts. Papale's virago of a wife decamps with all their worldly belongings, leaving behind only a cruel note branding him a failure and demanding a divorce. All Papale has left is his loyalty to the Eagles, who are mired in an epic losing streak. Looking to drum up some free publicity and local goodwill, new Eagles coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) announces that he's conducting public tryouts, but Papale — by far the best player in the neighborhood — is too dispirited to bother until his well-meaning dad (Kevin Conway) opines that sometimes it's best not to get your hopes up, because "a man can only take so much failure." Stung to the core, Vince sneaks off to the tryouts and so impresses Vermeil that, despite the fact that the sum total of Vince's organized playing experience is a year of high school football, he's offered a place in the preseason lineup. Despite the unremitting hostility of the professional players, Papale survives a series of cuts, earns a place on the team and restores hope to South Philly. He even gets the girl, Max's toothy, football-loving cousin (Elizabeth Banks). Screenwriter Brad Gann and cinematographer-turned-director Ericson Core discard any authentic detail that might make Papale's triumph seem less mind-bogglingly miraculous (he attended college on a full athletic scholarship, played for the short-lived World Football League team in 1974 and met Vermeil before the tryouts); the film's depiction of life among the salt of the earth is blandly cartoonish; and the "Super Sounds of the '70s" soundtrack meticulously matches songs to action, as though the filmmakers didn't trust viewers to figure out what these one-note characters were feeling.