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If you saw Time‘s Blog Index, in which one of the world’s most traditional magazines tries to demonstrate that it understands the internet, you already know this, but wow, they have a few things to learn about the internet.

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Wow, what do you suppose went on there? Maybe somebody forgot to watch what happens.

Apparently, we’ve already begun eulogizing Leatherheads and discussing what went wrong, because it only made $13.2 million over the weekend. WAAAAAH!

Leatherheads is a nicely executed movie with some very good qualities, and it’s clearly been made with a great deal of love, which goes a long way. There’s a lot of joy in it, which can’t be said about an awful lot of “romantic” “comedies” currently floating around. George Clooney and John Krasinski as a duo — that’s a very, very good idea. They have spectacular comedic chemistry when they’re allowed to get going, which unfortunately happens only a couple of times. Krasinski plays the first part of the movie quite straight, but there’s a moment when his character, the young college football phenom, gets drunk, and all of a sudden, the thing just explodes comedically, and it becomes really satisfying.

Unfortunately, the thing you have read over and over about this movie if you’ve been following the reviews is absolutely true: Renee Zellweger just about kills it. This simply is not her area, the snappy dialogue and crisp delivery. She became famous from Jerry Maguire, you remember, where her soft, fuzzy, slightly awkward naturalism was really an asset. But she’s one of those actresses who would be better off staying in her comfort zone, which is emphatically not this.

I found myself thinking over and over that there was enough charm in this story that I desperately wished I were watching it with a different actress. Someone more self-possessed, more mature in carriage, and more believable as someone George Clooney would actually fall in love with.

Because seriously, George Clooney is wonderful in this movie. Effortless, funny, breathtakingly movie-star-ish in the best way. Watching him in this after so recently seeing him in Michael Clayton elevates my respect for him, because the sort of eyebrow-popping, electric comedy presence that he brings to Leatherheads almost literally could not be more different from the weary, angry performance in Michael Clayton. In addition to being sexy and charismatic and breezily funny, Clooney is a hell of a good actor. There is a certain generosity to his persona — the same fundamental good nature that was on display in the now-famous video of him poking around Joel Stein’s house looking for the source of a beeping noise — that makes him a pleasure to watch in almost everything.

And that’s part of the Zellweger problem, too. It sounds absurd, but the fact is that when a guy is this magnetic and powerful on screen, you have to put a woman up there with huge chops. Because Clooney went gray at a relatively young age, it’s easy to think this is partly about the fact that she’s too young, but she’s not — it’s only a seven-year difference, which is piddling by Hollywood standards. It’s not that they chose an ingenue, because they didn’t: she’ll be forty next year. But she just doesn’t have the smart, earthy quality they needed to find for the mouthy-dame role.

Krasinski is terrific — he’s not the star of the show, but he makes the most of the part and, as I mentioned, has great pop when he works with Clooney. His talent for goofy comedy is not a revelation, but it is well used, and since the last thing he was in was License To Wed, there’s no question he’s moving in the right direction.

There’s no reason for it to be seen as a flop at all — there’s plenty to like about it. It’s pleasantly diverting, and if you like Clooney, you should absolutely see it and revel in his cinematic glow. But you’ll like the chemistry among the boys better than the love story, is my guess, so go in anticipating that and you’ll probably be satisfied.

April 2008
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