RATING |

Professional football: The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. The teleconferencing.

In Draft Day, which is positioned somewhere between a feature-length ad for the National Football League and a Moneyball-like look at sports-franchise roster strategies, we swoop down into the world of Sonny Weaver Jr., the fictive general manager of the real Cleveland Browns.

It's the moment of truth for Sonny: that fateful spring day when the 32 NFL teams go culling for the top contenders out of college - though you wouldn't know it by the laid-back way Kevin Costner shuffles around. With his sleepy, So-Cal inflections, Costner is an actor who summons urgency and drama with, well, I'm not sure exactly how he does what he does. He's the least dynamic of stars, but still, he is one.

In Draft Day, Costner's Sonny is the hard-pressed scion of a football legend. Under Junior's watch, the Browns have plummeted in the standings. Fans and local sports radio jocks are calling for his head.

But Sonny is looking to turn everything around. Bargaining with his Seattle Seahawks counterpart, he lands the No. 1 pick in the draft. The obvious choice: Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), a University of Wisconsin golden boy with a golden arm. Sonny's widowed mother (Ellen Burstyn) and boss, the Browns' owner (Frank Langella), expect him to go with Bo. His head coach (Denis Leary), wearing his Super Bowl ring from time with the Cowboys, has his own ideas.

Something's eating at Sonny, though, and it's not just that his girlfriend, Ali (Jennifer Garner) - who happens to be the Browns' salary-cap manager - just dropped some big news on him. Sonny's the kind of guy who goes his own way and has a nose for talent. At least, that's who he thinks he is. Plenty of folks just think he's a loser.

Directed by Ivan Reitman, Draft Day deploys a lot of split-screen action: Sonny talking into the speakerphone, bartering with GMs and coaches, chatting up potential players, asking Bo the tough questions. Now and then, Sonny, or one of the folks he's on the phone with, edges over into the adjacent split-screen space - a visual gimmick that's as close as the film gets to flash. Unless you count those promo spot-like flyovers of stadiums in Kansas City, Houston, and Jacksonville. Yes, the NFL gets a "special thanks" in the end credits. Maybe it should have been the other way around.

Draft Day **1/2 (Out of four stars)

Directed by Ivan Reitman. With Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Ellen Burstyn. Distributed by Summit Entertainment.

Running time: 1 hour, 52 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, adult themes).

Playing at: area theaters.EndText